DUBAI May 7 Gulf Arab states will scrap by the
end of the month a travel warning for citizens thinking of
visiting Lebanon, in a sign of improving relations with the new
Lebanese government, its tourism minister said on Wednesday.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, Qatar,
Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates - once
provided the bulk of Lebanon's tourism revenue but last June
warned citizens against visiting as Syria's civil war fuelled
sectarian violence in its smaller neighbour.
"Unofficially it has been lifted. When people talk to the
authorities they tell them: 'You can go to Lebanon'," Lebanese
Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon told Reuters in a telephone
"Now we're waiting for the (official) green light. We see
this will be before the end of the month."
Lifting the travel advisory comes as Lebanon's new
government, formed in February after 10 months of political
deadlock, beds in.
The Sunni Muslim-ruled GCC countries viewed the previous
government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which was formed in
2011 and remained in office in a caretaker capacity after his
resignation in March 2013, as a creation of their foe, the
Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
"Because of some misunderstanding with the (former)
government and some deterioration (in relations) they avoided
coming to Lebanon last year," said Pharaon.
"The government is really tight on security, with strong
international support for stability in Lebanon. This is new, so
they're observing and making sure this is something which is
Tourism and related industries account for a fifth of
Lebanon's economy and employ about 250,000 people, Pharaon said,
but the number of foreign visitors fell to 1.3 million last year
from 2.3 million in 2010, the last summer before the start of an
insurrection against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The crisis we went through was very costly and damaging but
we still have all the touristic assets and we think we can
revive them," Pharaon told a news conference, adding that
Lebanon aimed to host 1.8 million tourists this year.
Political tensions in Lebanon remain, and its parliament is
in stalemate over who should be the next president after
President Michel Suleiman's term expires in less than three
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)