UAE urges citizens not to travel to Lebanon

DUBAI Sun Dec 23, 2012 12:29pm GMT

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates urged citizens not to travel to Lebanon, a popular New Year holiday destination for Gulf Arabs, after Syria's civil war fanned sectarian clashes in north Lebanon.

The Gulf Arab state issued the warning because of "difficult and sensitive political circumstances" in Lebanon, saying Emiratis should not visit unless they had to, state news agency WAM reported late on Saturday.

Syria's conflict has provoked fighting in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, whose communal makeup mirrors that of the opposing sides in the war. Majority Sunnis in the city support Syria's mostly Sunni-led uprising, while Alawites, the Shi'ite-linked minority sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, are generally supportive of him.

Tensions in northern Lebanon have run particularly high since at least 14 Sunni Muslim Lebanese and Palestinian gunmen from the area were killed by Syrian security forces in a Syrian border town in early December. The men appeared to have joined the armed insurgency against Assad.

Tourists from wealthy Gulf states form the bulk of visitors to Lebanon, whose vital tourism industry has been hit hard by unrest in Syria. In August, the UAE told its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately after a spate of kidnappings by gunmen belonging to a Lebanese Shi'ite clan.

(Reporting by Rania El Gamal, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Trevelyan)

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