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Gulf tourists flee in face of air strikes
by Daily Star (reposted)
Friday Jul 14th, 2006 7:52 AM
Thousands of tourists evacuated Lebanon through the Syrian border on Thursday after Israel blockaded the country's ports and launched a debilitating air strike that left Beirut International Airport inoperable for at least 48 hours. Gulf nationals - the engines of Lebanon's recently revitalized tourism sector - lead the exodus, loading into private cars and buses provided by various embassies of Gulf Cooperation Council countries to make their way to Masnaa, the last remaining exit out of the country.
Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis said the Israeli-Hizbullah clashes would have 'catastrophic' consequences for the tourism industry, whose revenues currently account for 9 percent of GDP compared to 20 percent before the Civil War.

"Unfortunately tourists have been going to Syria by taxi since the airport closed," Sarkis said during an emergency meeting with representatives of the tourism industry on Thursday. "The airport should be crowded with tourists this time of year."

Sarkis had expected 1.6 million tourists in Lebanon this year - a strong recovery from the stagnant summer season in 2005 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The number of visitors had already increased by 50 percent during the first six months of 2006 to reach an "unprecedented" 631,000.

"The situation could lead to its [the sector's] bankruptcy and closure, and could cause the dismissal of 300,000 employees," Sarkis said in a statement released by the ministry.

Judging by the Beirut Central District - whose cafes and restaurants were teeming with Gulf tourists rooting for Saudi Arabia in the World Cup a few weeks ago - the consequences of the fighting will reverberate across the hospitality industry. The Lebanese Army stood guard in front of barricades blocking access to the Downtown area and many of the bars lining Gemmayzeh did not open. Even Beirut's perpetually bustling Corniche was free of traffic - both human and otherwise.

Paul Ariss, president of the Lebanese Syndicate of Restaurant, Cafe, and Hotel Owners, told The Daily Star that a marketing and advertising plan had been devised at Thursday's meeting with Sarkis to help tourism and hospitality businesses recover from the crisis.

by ArabNews (reposted)
Friday Jul 14th, 2006 7:53 AM
JEDDAH, 14 July 2006 — Anger and fear for loved ones stuck in Lebanon after Israel bombed Beirut’s airport yesterday morning, were some of the feelings expressed by Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom who were interviewed by Arab News, as all airlines suspended flights to and from Beirut.

Naila Abdulfattah, a retired educator, said that she is yet to hear from her daughter Muna who is with her husband Kareem honeymooning in Beirut. The newlywed couple had decided, after touring Europe, to conclude their honeymoon with a few days in Beirut.

“They’ve been honeymooning for three weeks and were due back tomorrow. This is the longest time my daughter’s been away. I’ve been counting the days for her return and now I don’t know when she’ll be able to come back,” said Naila.

All flights from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon have been canceled in the aftermath of Israel’s attack on Beirut International Airport according to a senior Saudia official. The status of flights to the Lebanese capital will remain suspended until further notice.

The official added, “Technically wide-bodied planes are unable to land on the runway strips at Beirut International Airport because of the attacks. Many passengers had already began calling in to cancel their flights to Lebanon before we’d cancelled flights.”

Saudi Arabia has increased flights to Damascus for Saudis choosing to return from the Syrian capital or from Lebanon via Damascus. Egypt Air also increased flights to Damascus since Cairo is a popular summer destination for Gulf tourists, especially Saudis.

Saudi travel agencies have also been instructed to stop their operations in and out of Beirut immediately, according to an official from a leading travel agency.

by ArabNews (reposted)
Friday Jul 14th, 2006 7:53 AM
DAMASCUS, 14 July 2006 — Saudi summer tourists in Syria are rethinking their leisure plans after Israeli forces attacked Lebanon.

“My family planned a trip to Latakia through a travel agent and paid for it,” said Sawsan Hassan, a summer visitor of Damascus. The family canceled the side-trip yesterday and is watching the news of Israel’s attacks into Lebanon. “Peace of mind and security are more expensive than anything else.”

Meanwhile, tourists have begun moving across the border into Syria after Israeli warplanes attacked and shut down Rafik Al-Hariri International Airport in southern Beirut. The airport shutdown has left many Arab tourists stranded in the besieged city.

With Israeli ground, air and sea forces focused on Lebanon, the border with Syria has become the main route for people leaving Lebanon. Syrian officials have made preparations for easing the flow into their country. A Syrian official told Reuters the authorities were doing their best to help Lebanon with civilian logistics.

by BBC (reposted)
Friday Jul 14th, 2006 9:40 PM
Up to 20,000 British and UK-Lebanese citizens in Lebanon have been told to "keep a low profile" amid the crisis in the Middle East.

The Foreign Office has also warned against all travel to Lebanon and urged those already in the area to "get ready for departure at short notice".

Officials have asked the 20,000 living there to register with them or with the British embassy in Beirut.

Tony Blair has called for "calm" in the wake of Israeli air strikes on Lebanon.

The offensive began after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.

Civilians killed

A Foreign Office statement issued on Friday warned: "If you are currently in Lebanon, you should stay put for the time being, exercise caution, keep in touch with the embassy and heed local advice."

Mr Blair called on the entire international community to help resolve the crisis.

He said there had to be energy and commitment from all sides to restart talks on a two-state solution.

Israel has intensified its attacks on Lebanon with fresh strikes on Beirut airport, the road to the Syrian capital and a power plant.

by UK Independent (reposted)
Saturday Jul 15th, 2006 11:25 PM

Two Royal Navy warships were dispatched to Lebanon last night in advance of a possible evacuation of up to 10,000 British citizens from the blockaded country.

The Ministry of Defence said it had sent the Royal Navy's flagship, the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, and an amphibious assault ship, HMS Bulwark, which is capable of carrying hundreds of people. HMS Illustrious is currently at Gibraltar and HMS Bulwark off the coast of Spain, by Barcelona.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 British families are registered in Lebanon, a Foreign Office spokesman said, with a further 10,000 individuals of dual nationality. Others could be holidaying in the country, which has suffered days of bombardment and blockade by Israel, following the kidnap of two Israeli soldiers by the militant group Hizbollah.

The international airport in Beirut is out of action after its runways were destroyed and Israeli warships are blockading the country's ports. The main road from Syria has also been bombed.

Dr Edward Smith, a British dentist based in Cyprus who is on holiday in Beirut, said he would welcome any evacuation.

Speaking from the Duke of Wellington, a British bar in the Mayflower hotel in central Beirut, he said he was due to leave Lebanon yesterday but had no way of getting out. "I'm on holiday with my wife and we are stranded," he said. "We can hear the bombs and the worry is if it escalates. People are keeping off the streets and all the shops are closed. Our hotel is, however, full of people who have left the south of the city, where the bombing is worse."

But the MoD said that no final decision had yet been taken on a full-scale evacuation. A spokeswoman said it was making "contingency plans". She added: "We're advising British nationals to get ready for departure at short notice if the situation changes."

by Arab News (reposted)
Saturday Jul 15th, 2006 11:27 PM
JEDDAH, 16 July 2006 — The Saudi Embassy in Beirut has advised all Saudi citizens in Lebanon to leave the country.

The government has ordered Saudi Arabian Airlines to divert more planes to Damascus to facilitate the flood of Saudi nationals seeking to leave the region due to the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon. Daily flights to Damascus have been increased from two to five.

Under the orders of Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, additional flights will be coming and going from the Damascus International Airport to Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, the official Saudi Press Agency quoted Director General of the Saudi Airlines Khaled Al-Mulhim as saying yesterday. He also said that about1 , 200Saudis returned home Thursday and Friday.

“Saudi Airlines has made all the necessary arrangements to enable the smooth return of Saudis from Lebanon in conjunction with the Kingdom’s embassy in Beirut, which is supervising the return of the Saudis to Damascus. The Saudi Embassy in Damascus is supervising the arrangement of their onward journey to the Kingdom,” said Al-Mulhim.

“The Saudi authorities have also ordered the carrier to accept all Saudis with or without tickets, and without payment,” the director general said.

Saudi Airlines has also posted special work force at the Damascus airport on round-the-clock duty and at the Saudia offices in Syria and Lebanon on 18-hour duty in order to facilitate speedy airlifting of the all the citizens and to answer their queries.

More aircraft are being requisitioned apart from sending additional staff to man three new operation centers in the Saudi Embassy in Damascus, Sham Hotel and the Saudia offices in Damascus.

by reposted
Sunday Jul 16th, 2006 12:08 PM
THOUSANDS of Australians trapped in Lebanon could be ferried to freedom as Western governments devise emergency evacuation plans, but Israel has vowed revenge for Hezbollah's latest missile attack, which killed nine Israeli civilians in Haifa yesterday.

Following days of escalating violence, Britain said it was sending two warships, including an aircraft carrier, to help evacuate its nationals from Lebanon.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said Australians trapped in Lebanon could be evacuated by ferry to Cyprus, under plans being hastily drawn up by the Federal Government.

There are about 25,000 Australian citizens in the country and some of those trapped told the Herald yesterday they felt abandoned, with no sign of rescue by Australia more than five days after Israel's first attack on Lebanon. But Mr Howard said: "I want to say to Australians who are worried about their loved ones in Lebanon, we are doing everything we can, 24 hours of the day, to arrange an evacuation plan."

With Israeli jets destroying highways and airports, and its ships blockading ports, the US said it would try to ferry its own citizens to Cyprus, from where they could take commercial flights.

But Israel, supported by the US, has rejected Lebanese Government pleas for a ceasefire to try to resolve the crisis sparked by last Wednesday's Hezbollah attack on an Israeli border patrol, which led to the death of eight soldiers and the capture of two.

Since then, more than 100 Lebanese and 12 Israeli civilians have died, along with four Israeli servicemen killed when a Hezbollah missile hit their vessel.

by ArabNews (reposted)
Sunday Jul 16th, 2006 5:25 PM
JEDDAH, 17 July 2006 — Saudi tourist operators have virtually suspended operations to Lebanon following the ongoing Israeli attacks on the country.

“While most of the tourists from the Kingdom want to cancel their bookings, others want to go on holiday to other safer places such as Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco and Tunis,” said a reliable source in the Saudi tourism industry.

The source mentioned that bookings to Lebanon had peaked to a record high of160 , 000reservations in July alone but everything was now ruined due to the Israeli bombings.

News agencies reported that since the start of the bombings more than55 ,000 tourists from the Gulf, with Saudis being in the majority, had crossed the Lebanese border into Syria with a view to catching flights to the Kingdom and other Gulf states.

Abdullah Al-Tayyar, a Jeddah tour operator, put the number of Saudi tourists who went to Lebanon before the outbreak of war at100 ,000. “Saudi families prefer Lebanon as a tourist destination during the vacation season mainly because a lot of Saudis own properties there. They also have large investments in the tourism industry in Lebanon,” he said.