x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE Citizens again told to avoid Lebanon travel

In a second warning from the foreign ministry travellers told to either stay away or 'exercise caution' following clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria's Al Assad

Another travel warning for Lebanon was issued to UAE citizens by the foreign ministry yesterday.

It was the second warning issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since clashes erupted last month in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, between supporters and opponents of the Al Assad regime in Syria.

According to Wam, the state news agency, the ministry advised UAE citizens to "avoid non-essential travel to Lebanon and Syria for the time being for their own safety".

Juma Mubarak Al Junaibe, the ministry's undersecretary, said the travel advisory was issued out of concern for the safety of citizens.

He urged citizens who insisted on travelling to exercise caution and vigilance, stay updated with the latest travel information on the ministry's website and register for the Tawajedi service, which offers assistance in case of emergency abroad.

Some Lebanese expatriates said the warnings were "unnecessary" and that they "exaggerated" the situation in the country.

"It's not worth the warning," said Rami Mohammed, 28, from Dubai. "If there is something small, issuing a travel warning will make it seem far bigger and cause tourists to panic.

"Such things are normal in Lebanon and usually only affect areas where tourists and visitors would not go - such as the borders or camps."

Despite the advisory, Marie-Anne Diab, who lives in Abu Dhabi, still planed to go home for the summer.

"Lebanon always has its ups and downs. I've been in Lebanon when the situations were far worse," said the psychiatrist, who was in Lebanon during the 2006 war, in which more than 1,000 civilians died.

"So something like this is not going to prevent me from going to visit my parents. The situation doesn't call for it."

However, Dr Diab did not disagree with the advisory.

"We're natives, so we're used to it. But people who are not familiar with this environment may find it uncomfortable and not know how to handle it," she said. "It may be a better idea to tell foreigners and tourists to avoid travelling there during this time."

Emiratis are beginning to take the advice seriously.

Omar Darwish, from Dubai, was planning to travel to Lebanon for two weddings this summer. He did not change his plans after the first travel warning was issued. Now, however, he has cancelled his flight. Despite the travel advisory, Mr Darwish was still required to pay Emirates Airlines a Dh100 penalty for cancellation.

A customer service representative confirmed that economy class customers are still required to pay penalty fees despite the advisory, although the amount varies depending on the class of ticket.

For Mr Darwish, it was a small price to pay for his safety.

"We're hearing scary things - that people from the Gulf are being kidnapped and that it's generally unsafe," he said. "My friend's father, who works with the embassy, also told us that travelling to Lebanon now isn't such a good idea.

"There are so many other destinations to visit, so there's no reason to make myself vulnerable to that kind of danger."

mismail@thenational.ae