BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has advised its citizens in Lebanon, especially families living there, to leave immediately due to the security situation, a Lebanese government source said on Saturday.
The source said the Lebanese government had confirmed the news with the Saudi embassy after several Saudi nationals said they received a text message with the advice.
Many countries already advise their nationals against non-essential travel to Lebanon, but it was unclear why Saudi Arabia had upgraded its own travel warning into one urging its citizens to leave immediately.
Saudi diplomats were not available for comment.
Tensions have increased after the United States said on Thursday it had deployed the USS Cole off the Lebanese coast because it was concerned about the political deadlock in Lebanon.
They have also been fuelled by the assassination in Damascus last month of a commander of the Lebanese Hezbollah group. Hezbollah said Israel was behind the killing of Imad Moughniyah. Israel has rejected the charge.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia is a major supporter of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon which has been locked in a 15-month-old political standoff with an opposition led by Iranian-and-Syrian backed Hezbollah.
The crisis has left Lebanon without a president since November and the deadlock has threatened to disintegrate into sectarian violence and continues to mar inter-Arab relations in the run-up to an Arab league summit in Syria on March 29-30.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa has been spearheading an Arab initiative to bring about reconciliation among Lebanon’s rival leaders, but has failed.
Lebanon’s presidential election was postponed again this week to March 11 from February 26, the 15th delay, after the rival leaders failed to make a deal.
Syria has accused the United States of prolonging the Lebanese crisis by deploying the USS Cole and said Washington could not impose a solution by “flexing its muscles”.
Hezbollah said the United States was endangering regional stability with the deployment and vowed to defy what it called an act of military intimidation.
“The slogans of democracy and freedom that Washington calls for seem fake and deceitful because they contradict with the diplomacy of warships and cannon muzzles,” the group said in a statement on Saturday.
Last month Saudi Arabia issued an advisory urging its citizens not to travel to Lebanon because of deteriorating political and security conditions. Kuwait and Bahrain followed with similar calls.
Several Kuwaiti nationals said they also received messages telling them to leave immediately but both the Kuwaiti embassy and the Lebanese source denied any new warning had been issued.
Lebanon is one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East for Arabs seeking its relaxed atmosphere compared to more conservative Arab countries, and Gulf nationals play a major role in the Lebanese economy.