U.S State Department Updates Lebanon Travel Warning
“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 October 9, 2013.
The potential for death or injury in Lebanon exists in particular due to the increasing frequency of terrorist bombing attacks throughout the country. Many of the attacks have targeted specific individuals or venues, but in all cases have resulted in death and harm to passersby in the vicinity. Although there is no evidence these attacks were directed specifically at U.S. citizens at this time, there is a real possibility of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ harm to U.S. citizens. On October 19, 2012, Wisam al-Hassan, a high-ranking police official, was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood. Two others died, and many were injured in the blast. On August 15, 2013, a car bomb in the Rouweis neighborhood in south Beirut, killed at least 27 and injured over 200. On August 23, 2013, car bombs detonated outside of two mosques in Tripoli, killing over 40 and injuring more than 500. On November 19, 2013, two suicide bombers targeted the Iranian Embassy in south Beirut, which left at least 25 dead, and 150 injured. On December 27, 2013, a car bomb in downtown Beirut killed former Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah, and seven others, while injuring more than 70. On January 2, 2014, a suicide car bomb exploded in Beirut, killing five and wounding at least 60. On January 16, 2014 a suicide car bomb exploded in Hermel, in the Bekaa Valley, killing five and wounding at least 40 people. On January 21, 2014 a suicide car bomb exploded in south Beirut, which left five dead and dozens wounded. Some of the most recent attacks have involved suicide bombers. Similar incidents can occur without warning. In addition to these bombings, there have been numerous reports in the media of Lebanese security forces disrupting other planned explosive attacks.
Sudden outbreaks of violence can occur at any time in the country, and major cities in Lebanon have seen armed clashes. On June 23, 2013, a confrontation between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Sunni extremists in the southern city of Sidon escalated into a pitched battle that left more than 36 dead on both sides. On December 15, 2013 gunmen attacked LAF checkpoints in Sidon resulting in five dead. There are frequent armed clashes in the city of Tripoli, particularly between the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, which have resulted in deaths and injuries. The LAF is routinely brought in to quell the violence in these situations. Lebanese government authorities cannot guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country in the event violence should occur suddenly. Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and can become violent. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with no warning. The ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services is severely limited.
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 prevent, access by U.S. Embassy officials to certain areas of the country, especially to parts of metropolitan Beirut, the city of Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley, and southern Lebanon. Because of security concerns, unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members is strictly limited, and requires the Department of State’s prior approval.
The Fulbright and the English Language Fellow programs that provided grants to U.S. scholars to live and work in Lebanon during the academic year remain suspended because of the security situation.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is a body that the United Nations and Lebanon created to investigate past political assassinations. In 2011, the STL delivered to Lebanon’s Prosecutor General an indictment containing arrest warrants for four Hizballah members who are still at large, and a fifth suspect was indicted in 2013. The trial began on January 16, 2014 and is expected to last for a significant period. The trial’s progress may heighten existing tensions in Lebanon.
Extremist groups operate in Lebanon, including some such as Hizballah, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and al-Nusrah Front that the U.S. government has designated as terrorist organizations. ISIL and al-Nusrah Front have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in southern Beirut, and these groups are active in north Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and in border areas with Syria. U.S. citizens have been the target of terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past, and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity remains unabated 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. They should consider avoiding areas where bombings have taken place recently. The most recent Security Messages are found at the following link: http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/secumsgs.html.
Hizballah maintains a strong presence in parts of south Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, and areas in southern Lebanon. The potential for violence involving or between Hizballah, other extremist groups, and criminal organizations remains a possibility throughout the country. Hizballah and other para-military groups have at times detained U.S. citizens or other foreigners for political motivations as well as for extended interrogation.
U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political and security developments in Syria, as these often impact the situation in Lebanon. The conflict in Syria has resulted in numerous security incidents in the border regions with Lebanon, as well as in other parts of the country. Over the course of 2013, there were incidents of reported cross-border shelling and air strikes of Lebanese villages from Syria, which resulted in deaths and injuries, as well as reports of armed groups from Syria who kidnapped or attacked Lebanese citizens living in the border area. Clashes between Lebanese authorities and criminal elements occurred in areas of the Bekaa Valley and border regions. Similar incidents could occur again without warning. With the potential for violence and abductions, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Lebanese-Syrian border region altogether.
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. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy to not make concessions to hostage takers. U.S. law also makes it illegal to provide material support to terrorist organizations.
Demonstrators sometimes block the primary road between downtown Beirut and Rafiq Hariri International Airport without warning. Access to the airport also may be cut off, sometimes for extended periods, if the security situation deteriorates.
Rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel have occurred in the last year and remain a persistent 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 LAF and the Israel Defense Forces, as well as between protesters and civilians, along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel also may occur with no warning. 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 more than 300 injured by unexploded ordnance remaining from the 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 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.
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 on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website.
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, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. U.S. citizens must make appointments, in advance. U.S. citizens who require emergency services outside these hours, however, may contact the Embassy by telephone at any time. The Embassy’s telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, (961-4) 543-600, and fax (961-4) 544-209 (Note: the (961) is only necessary when dialing from outside the country. When dialing inside the country, use ‘0’ before the number, e.g., 04 542-600).”
Source:Lebanon Travel Warning