Tourists poured into Syria from Lebanon on Thursday, fleeing Israeli bombing and a sea and air blockade that turned crowded Syrian border crossings into Lebanon’s only outlet to the world. I thought stability was in the air and this year was a good time to visit Lebanon, but Israeli aggression proved me wrong, said U.S. attorney Khaled Fakhuri.
I got orders from my company to leave. It is a shame really. Lebanon was a nice place, said Fakhuri, among a group of 65 tourists from California who crossed to Syria through the Masnaa border post on the road from Beirut to Damascus.
Syrian officials said they had eased border procedures to help Lebanon and cope with thousands of tourists waiting to process their papers.
They included 115 people Cyprus said it was evacuating on a charter plane from Damascus as Israeli attacks showed no signs of easing.
Israel struck Beirut airport and surrounded Lebanese ports on Thursday, widening reprisals that have killed 52 civilians in Lebanon since Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight a day earlier.
The attacks coincided with the peak of Lebanon’s tourist season, a main contributor to national income, when hundreds of thousands, especially Gulf Arabs, head to the country for their summer vacation.
I packed my belongings and assembled my family as soon as I could to leave. Every tourist I know did the same. Syrian and Lebanese officials have been very helpful, said Sami Hamida, who works at a petrochemical company in Riyadh.
A Syrian official told Reuters the authorities were doing their best to help Lebanon with civilian logistics although relations have been in crisis since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in April under international pressure following the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Lebanon can expect to rely on Syria to counter the Israeli blockade. What we are confronting is greater than any bilateral tension, the official said.
Lebanon’s 250-km (156 miles) eastern and northern border with Syria is it’s only land outlet, with the country’s southern border closed since the state of Israel was founded in 1948.
In Damascus, which suffers a shortage of hotel rooms, hotel executives said they had no space to accommodate the extra demand from Lebanon.
We have been fully booked for the past three weeks, Ghazwa Orfi, director of public relations at the Four Seasons hotel, told Reuters. Cancellations have been normal despite the political situation.