The US Department of State issued the following travel advisory to Lebanon on October 8 , urging its citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon. The new travel advisory supersedes the Travel Warning issued on March 29, 2010, and updates information on security threats in Lebanon:
The US Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to 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 March 29, 2010, and updates information on security threats in Lebanon.
While Lebanon enjoys periods of relative calm, the potential for a spontaneous upsurge in violence is real. Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly. Access to borders, airports, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Under such circumstances, the ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may at times be severely limited.
A number of extremist groups, including some the U.S. government has designated as terrorist organizations, operate in Lebanon. 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, varying times and routes for all required travel. U.S. citizens should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
On August 24, 2010, a disagreement over a parking space in the Burj Abi Haidar neighborhood of Beirut escalated rapidly into a gun battle between supporters of two sectarian groups that killed three and injured four others. The Lebanese security forces were able to contain the fighting, but it continued for several hours.
Demonstrators sometimes block for short periods of time and without warning the primary road between downtown Beirut and Rafiq Hariri International Airport. Access to the airport may also be cut off, sometimes for extended periods, if the security situation deteriorates.
Rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel continue to occur, most recently in October 2009. These attacks frequently provoke a military response from Israel. The rocket attacks and responses occur with no warning. Tense exchanges and skirmishes along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel also may occur with no warning. On August 3, 2010, an exchange of gunfire between Lebanese and Israeli forces near the southern Lebanese border town of Aadeisseh resulted in four deaths and several other casualties.
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-Hezbollah war. Travelers should watch for posted landmine warnings and strictly avoid all areas where landmines and unexploded ordnance may be present.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) , a body created by the United Nations to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has announced that it may issue indictments in the case by the end of 2010. Lebanese political leaders have warned publicly that the Tribunal’s findings could spark civil unrest or other violence.
Hezbollah, a political party designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, maintains a strong presence in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley, and South Lebanon. The situation in these areas remains tense, and sporadic violence involving this or other extremist organizations remains a possibility. U.S. citizens or other foreigners straying into these areas have sometimes been detained by militants for hours or longer. In early September 2010, two Polish hikers were detained in the Bekaa Valley; they were freed only after Lebanese army intervention.
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. Travel by U.S. citizens to Palestinian camps should be avoided. 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.
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 the country worsens, U.S. citizens will be responsible for arranging their own travel out of Lebanon. 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 at the Department of State 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. 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 prior approval by the Department of State.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Lebanon are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut through the State Department’s travel registration website. U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to update their registration information if it is no longer current.
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. 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 registration can also be found at the U.S. Embassy Beirut 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 via email.
Updated information on travel and security in Lebanon may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 within the United States and Canada or, from overseas, 1-202-501-4444 . Additional details can be found in the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Lebanon and the Worldwide Caution, which are available on the Department’s Internet website.
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