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No tourist exodus from Lebanon despite Gulf nations’ warnings about violence, industry experts say

Lebanese authorities have moved to ease security fears after Gulf states recently warned citizens against travel to the country. (Reuters/File)
Lebanese authorities have moved to ease security fears after Gulf states recently warned citizens against travel to the country. (Reuters/File)
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08 Aug 2023 12:08:55 GMT9
08 Aug 2023 12:08:55 GMT9
  • We maintain the security of Arab nationals and communicate with Arab embassies to confirm that,’ said Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi
  • The head of the nation’s Civil Aviation Authority denied social media rumors of people fleeing the country over concerns about deadly clashes at a Palestinian refugee camp

Najia Houssari

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, said on Monday that the recent deadly violence at a Palestinian refugee camp had abated, as officials attempted to ease concerns after Gulf states warned their citizens against traveling to the country.

“The situation in Ain Al-Helweh camp has now calmed down,” he said, referring to the restive camp in southern Lebanon, the largest of its kind in the country, where armed clashes broke out between members of Fatah and extremist organizations on July 29.

“We maintain the security of Arab nationals and communicate with Arab embassies to confirm that.”

The minister’s reassurance came as Fadi Al-Hassan, the director general of Lebanon’s Civil Aviation Authority denied suggestions spreading on social media that large numbers of people are fleeing the country on flights from Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. Arrivals and departures are operating as usual and passenger levels are normal for the time of year, he said.

“Things are still the same,” Al-Hassan added, noting that the airport is extremely busy with people arriving in the country for summer vacations.

Officials from organizations related to the tourism, travel and hotel sectors similarly reported no sign of a tourist exodus from Lebanon.

The reassurances came after Arab and other countries advised their nationals in Lebanon to take precautions by avoiding the areas around Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp, or to leave the country.

An observer at the airport in Beirut said the number of arrivals last month increased by 12 percent to 924,000, compared with July 2022. The observer said that most of those who arrived were Lebanese expatriates who plan to spend between one and two months in the country and will begin to leave around mid-August for work or to enroll their children in schools overseas.

The airport has recorded the arrival of about 16,000 passengers and the departure of 15,000 since the start of August.

Sources said a number of music festivals have taken place in Lebanon this year, which has helped to boost reservations at hotels and guest houses, with knock-on effects for restaurants and nightclubs.

Official statistics for air travel, travel agencies and hotel bookings suggest that about a million tourists have arrived in Lebanon so far during the summer season.

Jean Abboud, head of the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in the country, said the tourism sector does not appear to have experienced any repercussions following the warnings about the recent violence from nations in the Gulf and Europe. There have been no reports of canceled reservations, he added, and expatriates continue to arrive.

The number of arrivals at Rafic Hariri International Airport currently averages between 20,000 and 21,000 a day, Abboud said, and the number of daily flights exceeds 100. This pace is expected to continue until the end of August, he added.

The arrivals include growing numbers visitors from countries that are not traditionally big sources of tourism for Lebanon, he said, which shows the success of efforts by tourism businesses and agencies in the private sector to market Lebanon internationally and put it back on the global tourism map, particularly in Europe, which is helping to support the beleaguered national economy.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mawlawi said that Lebanese authorities will not tolerate any criminal activities and security operations are continuing to identify and detain those responsible for the violence in Ain Al-Hilweh camp. There was no indication that the situation had escalated or spread to other camps, he added.

“Lebanon is not a mailbox and we will not allow it to be a theater for sending messages,” he said.

The minister was speaking after presiding over a meeting of the country’s Central Security Council that included representatives of the security, military and judicial services. It was called after the warnings from all GCC embassies to their nationals.

“We appreciate the measures taken by the army to prevent the situation in Ain Al-Hilweh from breaking loose,” Mawlawi added.

He said the atmosphere had been calmed and “what is required is the absence of any armed men on Lebanese soil, and we do not implement anyone’s agendas.”

He added: “There are armed groups in the camps. The matter is in the hands of the army, which acted with precision and wisdom, and the army leadership is prudent and knows how to deal with the circumstances.”

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