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Travel Warning: Lebanon

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Lebanon on September 17, 2012.  It reads as follows:

Lebanon

September 17, 2012

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns. U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks. This supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 8, 2012, to emphasize information on security, kidnappings, and an upsurge in violence in Lebanon and the region.

The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains. Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly. Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family or neighborhood disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning. The ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may be severely limited. 

The Fulbright and the English Language Fellow programs that provided grants to American scholars to live and work in Lebanon during the academic year have been suspended in country because of the deteriorating security situation and the increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon.

A number of extremist groups operate in Lebanon, including some, such as Hizballah, that the U.S. government has designated as terrorist organizations. U.S. citizens have been the target of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past, and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist in Lebanon. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should keep a low profile, assess their personal security, and vary times and routes for all required travel. U.S. citizens also should pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners generally are known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.

Hizballah maintains a strong presence in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley, and areas in South Lebanon. The situation remains tense, and sporadic violence involving Hizballah or other extremist or criminal organizations remains a possibility in many areas of the country. The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens that clashes between Lebanese authorities and criminal elements have also recently occurred in other areas of the Bekaa and border regions.

The ongoing unrest in Syria has also resulted in numerous security incidents in the border regions between Lebanon and Syria and coincides with an increasing number of security incidents around the country. On April 9, 2012, a journalist reporting from the Lebanese border was killed by gunfire originating from Syria. Over the past several months, there have also been reports of the shelling of Lebanese border areas and villages originating from Syria, as well as armed groups originating from Syria who have kidnapped or attacked Lebanese citizens living in the border area. On August 31, 2012, a Lebanese Internal Security (ISF) officer was wounded as a result of overnight shelling.  The potential for border violence remains and the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid the Lebanese-Syrian border region.

U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political and security developments in Syria, as this may impact the security situation in Lebanon. On August 9 the ISF arrested former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha on charges of having plotted, at the direction of Syrian officials, to destabilize Lebanon by setting explosions and planning to assassinate certain Lebanese officials living in Tripoli or the northern region of Akkar.

Hizballah and other para-military groups have at times detained U.S. citizens or other foreigners for political motivations as well as for interrogation – sometimes for hours or longer. Kidnapping, whether for ransom or political motives, remains a problem in Lebanon. Suspects in kidnappings sometimes have been found to have ties to terrorist or criminal organizations.

On August 16, 2012, the Maqdad clan in Lebanon kidnapped numerous foreigners and claimed its actions were aimed at pressing for the release of one of their family members being held prisoner in Syria, allegedly by a group supporting the Syrian opposition.

On March 23, 2011, seven Estonian bicyclists were kidnapped in Deir Zenoun, between Masnaa and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley. The kidnapping was planned and well coordinated, according to Lebanese authorities. The Estonians were ultimately released on July 14, 2011.
Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to pay ransom.

Demonstrators sometimes block the primary road between downtown Beirut and Rafiq Hariri International Airport for short periods of time and without warning. Access to the airport also may be cut off, sometimes for extended periods, if the security situation deteriorates.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is a body the United Nations and Lebanon created to investigate past political assassinations, including the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. On June 30, 2011, the STL delivered to Lebanon’s Prosecutor General an indictment containing arrest warrants for four Hizballah members who are still at large.

Beginning March 1, 2012 the United Nations renewed the STL’s mandate for a second three-year term. U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political developments, particularly in relation to the STL, as Lebanese political leaders have warned publicly that the Tribunal’s findings could spark civil unrest.

Rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel have occurred in the past and remain a potential threat. These attacks frequently provoke a military response from Israel. The rocket attacks and responses occur with no warning. Skirmishes and tense exchanges between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as protesters and civilians, along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel also may occur with no warning. On May 15, 2011, several demonstrators were killed and several, including a U.S. citizen, were severely wounded near the southern Lebanese border town of Maroun ar-Ras after clashes with Israel resulted in open gunfire. Landmines and unexploded ordnance pose significant dangers throughout southern Lebanon, particularly south of the Litani River, as well as in areas of the country where fighting was intense during the civil war. More than 40 civilians have been killed and over 300 injured by unexploded ordnance remaining from the July-August 2006 Israel-Hizballah war. Travelers should watch for posted landmine warnings and strictly avoid all areas where landmines and unexploded ordnance may be present.

Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the United States operate largely autonomously inside refugee and military camps in different areas of the country. Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Palestinian camps. Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with alleged links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S., and other foreign government interests. Although the group has been outlawed by the Lebanese government, it continues to maintain a presence in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.

On December 9, 2011, an explosion in the eastern outskirts of Tyre in South Lebanon targeted a UN vehicle injuring five French peacekeepers and two civilians. This was the third attack aimed at UN Peacekeepers in 2011 with previous attacks on May 27, 2011 and July 26, 2011 when roadside bombs targeted UN convoys in which several peacekeepers were injured. These incidents took place on the coastal highway near Saida. Similar incidents could occur again without warning.

U.S. citizens traveling or resident in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should be aware that the U.S. Embassy’s ability to reach all areas of Lebanon is limited. The Embassy cannot guarantee that Embassy employees will be able to render assistance to U.S. citizens in all areas of the country.

In the event that the security climate in Lebanon and the region worsens, U.S. citizens will be responsible for arranging their own travel out of Lebanon. U.S. citizens should be aware that the embassy does not offer “protection” services to individuals who feel unsafe. U.S. citizens with special medical or other needs should be aware of the risks of remaining given their condition, and should be prepared to seek treatment in Lebanon if they cannot arrange for travel out of the country.

U.S. government-facilitated evacuations, such as the evacuation that took place from Lebanon in 2006, occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist. Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the U.S. Government for travel costs. The lack of a valid U.S. passport may hinder U.S. citizens’ ability to depart the country and may slow the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide assistance. U.S. citizens in Lebanon should therefore ensure that they have proper and current documentation at all times. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents should consult with the Department of Homeland Security before they depart the United States to ensure they have proper documentation to re-enter. Further information on the Department’s role during emergencies is provided within the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. Government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions. The internal security policies of the U.S. Embassy may be adjusted at any time and without advance notice. These practices limit, and may occasionally prevent, access by U.S. Embassy officials to certain areas of the country. Because of security concerns, unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members is discouraged and strictly limited and requires the Department of State’s prior approval.

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Lebanon should enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at the Bureau of Consular Affairs website to receive the latest travel updates and information and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon. Public access hours for U.S. citizens are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., U.S. citizens must make appointments in advance. However, U.S. citizens who require emergency services outside these hours may contact the embassy by telephone at any time. The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209.

Information on consular services and enrollment in STEP can also be found at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut’s website or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday local time. Inquiries may also be sent to BeirutACS@state.gov.

Up-to-date information on travel and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
For further information, U.S. citizens should consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Lebanon. You can also stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which also contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App or Android app to have travel information at your fingertips.

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Written by OSB

18/09/2012 at 02:56

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