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U.S. Department of State Travel Warning – Lebanon

 

U.S. Department of State
Travel Warning – Lebanon
Bureau of Consular Affairs
April 4, 2011
 
The 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 October 8, 2010, and updates information on security and kidnapping threats in Lebanon.
 
The potential in Lebanon 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. Family or neighborhood disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning. 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 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, varying 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 in those and other areas remains tense, and sporadic violence involving Hizballah or other extremist or criminal organizations remains a possibility in many areas of the country. 
 
U.S. citizens or other foreigners have sometimes been detained by militants for hours or longer. In September 2010, two Polish citizens were detained in the Bekaa Valley; they were freed only after Lebanese army intervention. 
 
On March 23, 2011, seven Estonian bicyclists were kidnapped in Deir Zenoun, between Masnaa and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley. The kidnapping appears to have been pre-planned and well coordinated, according to Lebanese authorities. As of the date of this Travel Warning, the location of the Estonians was unknown.
 
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.
 
On January 17, 2011, the prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a body created by the United Nations to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, submitted the first draft indictment for pre-trial review. The Tribunal has indicated that it expects to issue indictments in 2011. Lebanese political leaders have warned publicly that the Tribunal's findings could spark civil unrest.
 
Rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel have occurred often 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 along Lebanon's southern border with Israel also may occur with no warning. On August 3, 2010, an exchange of gunfire between the two armies 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.
 
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 enroll in the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon. 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 enrollment in STEP 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 other countries, 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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