19 May 2012

* UAE, Qatar and Bahrain urge their citizens to leave Lebanon

BEIRUT: The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain called on their citizens Saturday to avoid travel to Lebanon and for those in the country to depart given the tense security situation as Prime Minster Najib Mikati, who expressed surprise on the development, urged the three states to reconsider their decisions.

Ambassador Isa Abdullah Masoud al-Kalbani, the director of the department of the Nationals' Affairs at the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the steps the Emirates had taken were out of its “keenness for the safety of its expats and citizens.”

Kalbani called on those presently in the country to depart and for those obliged to stay to call their embassy in Beirut to notify it of their whereabouts and contact details.

The UAE official also said it was important that citizens register on the ministry’s online Tawajudi program when leaving the Emirates.

Qatar and Bahrain also issued similar travel warnings, urging their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and that those presently in the country leave.

Unrest between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli last week claimed the lives of 11 people and led to the wounding of scores more.

The Lebanese Army, which was deployed to the area Tuesday, brought an end to the fighting and a shaky truce has been enforced since then.

According to the office of the prime minister, Mikati contacted several officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council to seek clarification on the travel advisories by the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.

Mikati, who expressed surprise over the decisions, said there “is no practical justification for it because the security situation in Lebanon is good and the events [in Tripoli] have been resolved.”

He urged the three states to reconsider their decisions and welcomed “all those visiting to Lebanon, particularly our Arab brothers.”

Mikati also contacted Foreign Affairs Adnan Mansour and requested that he follow up on the matter.

Earlier Satruday, Mansour, who left Beirut to participate at a forum in Doha, urged both the UAE and Qatar to revise their decisions.

“We hope that our responsible brothers in Qatar and the UAE will reconsider these two decisions because the situation in Lebanon does not require officials in these sisterly countries to take decisions such as this because the Qatari and Emirati brothers are as our other Arab brothers and they have a special place in the hearts of Lebanese,” Mansour said, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.

“The bonds of brotherhood that link Lebanon with them are greater than any transient incident and therefore they are welcome in Lebanon at any time because at the end of the day they are in their second homes,” he added.

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Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.