An important watershed in the War of Independence was the massacre of civilians by the FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955. Before this operation, FLN policy was to attack only military and government-related targets. The wilaya commander for the Constantine region, however, decided a drastic escalation was needed. The killing by the FLN and its supporters of 123 people, including old women and babies, shocked Soustelle into calling for more repressive measures against the rebels. The government claimed it killed 1,273 guerrillas in retaliation; according to the FLN, 12,000 Muslims perished in an orgy of bloodletting by the armed forces and police, as well as colon gangs. After Philippeville, all-out war began in Algeria.
Soustelle's successor, Governor General Robert Lacoste, a socialist, abolished the Algerian Assembly. Lacoste saw the assembly, which was dominated by colons, as hindering the work of his administration, and he undertook to rule Algeria by decreelaw . He favored stepping up French military operations and granted the army exceptional police powers--a concession of dubious legality under French law--to deal with the mounting terrorism. At the same time, Lacoste proposed a new administrative structure that would give Algeria a degree of autonomy and a decentralized government. Although remaining an integral part of France, Algeria was to be divided into five districts, each of which would have a territorial assembly elected from a single slate of candidates. Colon deputies were able to delay until 1958 passage of the measure by the National Assembly.
In August-September 1956, the internal leadership of the FLN met to organize a formal policy-making body to synchronize the movement's political and military activities. The highest authority of the FLN was vested in the thirty-four-member National Council of the Algerian Revolution (Conseil National de la Révolution Algérienne--CNRA), within which the five-man Committee of Coordination and Enforcement (Comité de Coordination et d'Exécution--CCE) formed the executive. The externals, including Ben Bella, knew the conference was taking place but by chance or design on the part of the internals were unable to attend.
Meanwhile, in October 1956 Lacoste had the FLN external political leaders who were in Algeria at the time arrested and imprisoned for the duration of the war. This action caused the remaining rebel leaders to harden their stance.
France took a more openly hostile view of President Nasser's material and political assistance to the FLN, which some French analysts believed was the most important element in sustaining continued rebel activity in Algeria. This attitude was a factor in persuading France to participate in the November 1956 AngloSuez Campaign, meant to topple Nasser from power.
During 1957 support for the FLN weakened as the breach between the internals and externals widened. To halt the drift, the FLN expanded its executive committee to include Abbas, as well as imprisoned political leaders such as Ben Bella. It also convinced communist and Arab members of the United Nations (UN) to apply diplomatic pressure on the French government to negotiate a cease-fire.
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