Recent travel warnings highlight political upheaval and acts of terrorism that have made travel to Middle Eastern nations much more perilous than in the past. Although many would advise to refrain from travel to Lebanon due to safety and security issues, there are many willing to accept the risks and start packing for the chance to visit this fascinating country.
It's important to arm yourself with up to date information and a carefully planned itinerary to avoid danger zones is the key to increasing the probability that your trip will be trouble-free and safe.
In March 2011, seven Estonian bicyclists were kidnapped in Deir Zenoun near the Bekaa Valley. This appears to have been a planned and well-coordinated incident. As of today, the location of the Estonians is still unknown.
In January 2011, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in response to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, handed over indictments for review. Further developments related to this case may increase the likelihood of unrest. Additionally, Lebanon's unity government collapsed following the resignation of 11 opposition ministers.
A number of demonstrations resulted although there were no injuries reported. Historically, political demonstrations have led to roadblocks, burning of tires and weapons fire.
In the past few years, there have been increased incidents of unofficial road barricades, gun battles in residential neighborhoods, grenade attacks, targeted vehicle explosions and shelling.
Attacks have occurred in places frequented by foreigners (public transportation hubs, hotels, major thoroughfares, etc.). Additionally, due to spontaneous upsurges in violence, access to borders, airports and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning.
The terrorist group, Hezbollah, maintains a strong presence in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas in South Lebanon.
Sporadic violence involving Hezbollah or other extremist groups remains a possibility in many areas of the country. Militants have mounted attacks in the lead-up to and on days of national and religious significance, so be particularly cautious during these times.
Foreigners have sometimes been detained by militants for many hours. In September, 2010, two Polish citizens were detained in the Bekaa Valley and were free only after Lebanese army intervention. U.S. tourists are particular targets in Lebanon. In early 2008, a U.S. Embassy vehicle was targeted in a bomb attack that killed three Lebanese bystanders. U.S. citizens should thus keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel.
The Tripoli neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tabbaneh are prone to intercommunity violence. Since the May 2008 hostilities there have been violent outbreaks in Tripoli that left over twenty dead and dozens wounded.
South of the Litani River (especially areas bordering Israel) is a highly militarized and volatile area. Rocket launches occasionally occur, provoking retaliatory attacks within Lebanon.
Lebanon and Israel have not yet agreed on an international border. The "Blue-line" separating the two countries and the nearby areas are often heavily mined. Avoid areas of Ghajar, Kfarshouba Hills and Chebaa Farms which also remain under border disputes.
Travel to Palestinian refugee camps is strongly discouraged. The security in these areas remains tense and unpredictable.
Keep in mind that Palestinian camps are often located close to urban centers and are not always clearly separated, therefore, exercise caution to avoid unknowingly entering a camp. Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee and other camps in different areas of the country resulting in numerous violent incidents such as shootings and explosions.
Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with apparent links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S., and other foreign government interests.
They have been outlawed by the Lebanese government but continue to maintain a presence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Finally, various Western interests have been attacked in the past. Places such as Embassies, international hotels, fast-food outlets and restaurants, especially those frequented by foreign military personnel, remain possible targets.
- Register with your local Embassy upon arrival and contact them periodically for any updates.
- Carry up to date passport/travel documents and other identification on you at all times.
- Stay informed daily of any potential problems through local media reports.
- In the event of an uprising nearby, vacate the area and travel to a safe location.
- If unable to leave the area, stay indoors, listen to media updates and make contact with your Embassy.
- During any times of unrest, keep a low profile and pay close attention to your personal security at locations where foreigners typically gather.
- Always exercise extreme caution. During times of upheaval, the ability of your Embassy or local government to assist or provide emergency services or evacuations may be severely limited.
As is evident by the information above, travel to Lebanon at this time does not come without risks. However, with careful planning and vigilant awareness of your surroundings, you can greatly decrease the chance of finding yourself in a dangerous situation. In addition to the information discussed above, it is critical that you get up to the minute information prior to traveling so you will be well-prepared.
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