U.S. Renews Travel Warning to Lebanon despite Relatively Calm Situationإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The U.S. Department of State renewed its travel warning advisory to Lebanon over safety and security concerns, citing fears over the increasing tension along Lebanon's northeastern border town of Arsal and the rise of terror groups in the country.
U.S. Embassy sources informed Naharnet on Saturday that “the travel warning, which is renewed every six months, is issued to provide U.S. citizens in Lebanon with more concrete context on the risks” of traveling or residing in Beirut.
“The risks are covered in this regular semi annual update, which reflects the objective changes in the security situation” in Lebanon, the sources added.
They lauded the efforts exerted by Lebanese security agencies to prevent bombings, stressing that “the last wave of bombings in Beirut began in June 2013 and ended in mid-2014 with hundreds of dead and injured, including at least two U.S. citizens killed.”
They also emphasized that security concerns “shifted from bombing threats to the (dangerous) situation in Arsal and recent tension in the Shabaa Farms.”
The Department of State urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon and to carefully consider the risks of remaining in the country, citing the death of two U.S. citizens in bombings and the abduction of two others after a similar warning was issued in November 2014.
The statement, which was issued on Friday, expressed concern over the August 2014 battles between extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front with the Lebanese army in the Bekaa border town of Arsal.
It called on U.S. citizens in Lebanon to monitor political and security developments in both Lebanon and Syria for their safety.
The statement mentioned several incidents that have occurred in the area including: Cross-border shelling and air strikes of Lebanese villages from Syria, the abduction of Lebanese by armed groups from Syria, clashes between Lebanese authorities and criminal elements in areas of the Bekaa Valley and border regions.
“Similar incidents could occur again without warning... U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the Lebanese-Syrian border region.”
The statement also underlined border tension with Israel, in particular after hostilities between the Jewish State and Hizbullah in the Golan Heights and the (occupied) Shebaa Farms area.
“The potential for wider conflict remains,” the warning said.
The State Department said that Hizbullah “stockpiled large amounts of munitions South of the Litani River in anticipation of a future conflict with Israel.”
The statement added that “sudden outbreaks of violence can occur at any time in Lebanon,” warning that the Lebanese government cannot guarantee protection for U.S. citizens if any conflict emerges.
U.S. designated terror groups, including Hizbullah, ISIL, Nusra Front and the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades operate in Lebanon, the statement said.
It warned that ISIL and Nusra Front are active in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and in border areas with Syria.
“Hizbullah also maintains a strong presence in parts of south Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, and areas in southern Lebanon and has been the target of attacks by other extremist groups for their support of the (Bashar) Assad regime in Syria,” the statement remarked.
It warned that “the potential for violence between Hizbullah and other extremist groups throughout the country remains a strong possibility.”
Hizbullah backed by Syrian forces has recently controlled strategic areas in Qalamoun that abuts Lebanon's eastern border, amid continuing clashes in the region.
Hizbullah cites fear of militants from the IS group and al-Nusra Front sweeping through Shiite and Christian border villages as one of the main reasons for its involvement in Syria.
Some observers however fear the Qalamoun offensive could prompt Islamist militants to launch attacks in Shiite areas of Lebanon itself, including Beirut's southern suburbs.
The IS and Nusra Front have infiltrated Lebanon in the past, and last August briefly overran Arsal, taking with them several soldiers and policemen hostage, four of whom have been executed.
The Department State hailed the efforts exerted by Lebanese security agencies to quell the violence across Lebanon.
“The security services have made great progress in improving their capacity to detect and intercept terrorist attacks, resulting in a marked decline in suicide and car bombs, but many extremist groups remain actively engaged in planning attacks.”
It warned that kidnappings “remain a problem in Lebanon,” noting that U.S. citizens have been victims of such acts in recent years.
“The U.S. government’s ability to help U.S. citizens kidnapped or taken hostage is very limited. It is the U.S. policy to not make concessions to hostage takers.”
It also warned U.S. citizens of traveling on airlines that fly over Syria.
It called on U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lebanon to enroll in the Department of Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact nationals in an emergency.
The conflict in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon in the shape of deadly clashes and bombings.
The statement urged U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning to “keep a low profile, assess their personal security, and vary times and routes for all required travel.”
For further information please check: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/lebanon-travel-warning.html