U.S. Orders Its Diplomats Out of Lebanon

WASHINGTON — The State Department
on Friday ordered nonessential U.S.
diplomats to leave Lebanon due to
security concerns as the Obama
administration and Congress debate
military strikes on neighboring Syria.
In a new travel warning for Lebanon,
the department said it had instructed
nonessential staffers to leave Beirut
and urged private American citizens to
depart Lebanon.
The step had been under consideration
since last week when President Barack
Obama said he was contemplating
military action against the Syrian
government for its alleged chemical
weapons attack last month that the
administration said killed more than
1,400 people near Damascus.
"The potential in Lebanon for a
spontaneous upsurge in violence
remains," the department said.
"Lebanese government authorities are
not able to guarantee protection for
citizens or visitors to the country
should violence erupt suddenly. Access
to borders, airports, roads, and
seaports can be interrupted with little
or no warning," the statement said.
"Public demonstrations occur
frequently with little warning and have
the potential to become violent.
Family, neighborhood, or sectarian
disputes often escalate quickly and can
lead to gunfire or other violence with
little or no warning.
"The ability of U.S. government
personnel to reach travelers or provide
emergency services may be severely
limited," the department cautioned.
Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said,
"We will continue to assess the situation
and to adjust our security posture
accordingly.":
The U.S. closed 19 embassies and
consulates across Africa and the Middle
East last month for more than a week
after a terrorist threat. Hezbollah, an
Assad ally that has sent fighters into
Syria, is based in Lebanon.
The department also said that Hezbollah
"maintains a strong presence in parts
of the southern suburbs of Beirut,
portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas
in South Lebanon."
"The situation remains tense, and
sporadic violence involving Hezbollah
or other extremist or criminal
organizations remains a possibility in
many areas of the country," it said.
"The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens
that clashes between Lebanese
authorities and criminal elements have
also recently occurred in other areas of
the Bekaa and border regions," the
statement said.
In a separate advisory for Turkey, the
department advocated a policy of
voluntary withdrawal of people, saying
that its diplomatic outpost in Adana
"has been authorized to draw down its
non-emergency staff and family
members because of threats against
U.S. government facilities and
personnel." The department said it was
recommending that U.S. citizens "defer
non-essential travel" to southeastern
Turkey.