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Why are UAE, Saudi, other Gulf countries issuing Lebanon travel warnings?

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and also Germany and the United Kingdom issued similar travel warnings over the fighting that began July 29 between Fatah and hard-line Islamists at Lebanon's Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp.
Bullet-ridden buildings are seen at the Ain el-Hilweh camp following the latest flare-up in the Palestinian refugee camp, Sidon, Lebanon, Aug. 4, 2023.

DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined the Gulf and some European countries in issuing warnings and restrictions for citizen travel to Lebanon on Sunday, amid ongoing clashes at the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon where at least 13 were killed and tens of thousands of Palestinians displaced.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and also Germany and the United Kingdom issued similar travel warnings over the fighting that began July 29 between rival Palestinian factions, mainly Fatah and hard-line Islamists.

As Al-Monitor's Beatrice Farhat reported from Beirut, the violence was instigated after a Fatah member shot at Islamist militant Mahmoud Khalil. Khalil survived the attack with injuries. He is a member of al-Shabab al-Muslim faction, according to Palestinian sources from inside the camp, and is wanted by Lebanese authorities.

What happened: The UAE stressed its previously established travel ban to Lebanon for its citizens on Sunday, according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizes the importance of adhering to the previously issued travel ban for Emirati citizens to Lebanon,” said a tweet from the ministry. 

Other Gulf countries also issued and reiterated their Lebanese travel bans or restrictions over the past week. Saudi Arabia “stressed the importance of adhering to the Saudi travel ban to Lebanon,” and urged all its citizens to leave Lebanon, the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon announced on Friday. Kuwait shared an advisory for its citizens to avoid high-risk areas on Saturday but did not issue a travel ban.

The United Kingdom limited its travel guidance to Lebanon to “all but essential travel” last Tuesday to areas near the Ain el-Hilweh camp in Lebanon’s south. Germany also warned its citizens last week against travel to the Palestinian camps in south Lebanon.

In response to the series of travel ban issuances and warnings, Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker premier, said there was no reason to panic about his country’s safety.

“The situation does not call for concern or panic,” said Mikati in a statement Saturday, according to Reuters. He added that significant progress had been made in resolving the conflict at Ain el-Hilweh camp and that Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib had been assigned the role of reassuring Arab countries of Lebanon’s safe environment.

Why it matters: Nearly 20,000 people have been forced from their homes since the start of the violence in Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, with more than half of them being children, warned Save the Children on Thursday.

Some families told the global aid organization that they are too afraid to leave their homes, families have been separated and many have limited supplies of food and water due the threat of gunfire that killed at least 13 people.

Ain el-Hilweh is the largest of 12 refugee camps with now about a quarter of its 80,000 residents displaced. Lebanon hosts up to 250,000 Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations agency for refugees from Palestine, UNRWA.

Background: The UAE has repeatedly issued and reinstated travel bans for its citizens to Lebanon over recent years. The latest ban was in February 2019 for citizens traveling to Lebanon due to the country's political unrest. Abu Dhabi then lifted the ban in October 2019, while a Lebanese delegation visited Abu Dhabi seeking support for its ailing economy.

Lebanon's civil war broke out in 1975 following clashes between armed Palestinian militants and Christian parties. Gulf countries have become increasingly concerned of acts of kidnapping targeting their citizens. A Saudi citizen was kidnapped in May, but was released after an intervention by the Lebanese army. 

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