The comments followed an announcement by the US Department of State advising all non-essential embassy staff and their families to leave Beirut. American nationals were also advised to leave. In addition, the State Department issued similar advice to its staff and citizens in Turkey.
The US action came as a result of fears of reprisals against American targets should a military strike against Syria take place.
Lebanese authorities have taken a number of measures to protect diplomatic missions in the country and increased the numbers of security officers on the ground. Roads leading to foreign and Arab embassies were closed and cars were searched.
Two days ago, Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council implemented stricter security measures to tighten internal security and protect diplomatic missions and properties. The Minister of Interior in the interim government, Marwan Charbel, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that the measures were taken “to fight terrorism and stop criminals executing their plans.”
Charbel added that these measures “were the result of political and security analyses of the repercussions of a possible military strike on Syria,” adding that “we are doing our best in terms of proactive security by increasing the numbers of security personnel, carrying out investigations and increasing the number of security patrols.”
Charbel denied that security forces had received information about possible attacks on diplomatic missions should a military strike takes place. He said the actions taken by the embassies in Lebanon were internal matters, adding that the duty of security forces was to provide security for embassies regardless whether their staff were inside or not. He said he will meet the US’s ambassador to Lebanon, David Hale, on Monday to discuss the issue.
However, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adnan Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat that “whoever was planning a military strike against Syria has all the answers, and maybe the decision [to evacuate their citizens] was a precautionary measure or a prelude to the military operation they are planning.”
He added that, at the same time, “as a Lebanese government, we do our duty to provide security to foreign and Arab embassies and citizens, and officials know that very well through constant communication and coordination with them.”
Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati held a meeting with Ambassador Hale and expressed his hope for the “return of the embassy staff who had left, along with their families.” He added that “specialist security forces were taking suitable measures to guarantee the safety of diplomatic missions and foreign nationals in Lebanon.”
The same decision was taken by Britain, Kuwait and Bahrain before the US. They all advised their citizens to leave Lebanon. France had advised its citizens to take extra caution regarding the security concerns and await further instructions.
In the mean time, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines has not taken any new measures so far following the reports of an impending strike on Syria. Last week, Cyprus Airways cancelled night flights to avoid its aircraft and staff staying overnight in Beirut, moving the flight to an early morning slot.
Head of the Lebanese travel agents’ union, Jean Abboud, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we are still in the peak period and are fully bookings until September 15, and this is normal for Lebanon,” adding that “the decisions by Air France and Cyprus Airways to suspend night flights are still effective.”