BEIRUT: Riyadh’s revocation of its nearly two-year travel advisory for Lebanon will go into effect at the end of the month, with other Gulf states expected to follow suit.
The decision to officially lift the advisory was made earlier this month, days after the Saudi envoy returned to Lebanon, a source from the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon told The Daily Star.
After a meeting Wednesday with Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Tourism Minister Michel Pharoun confirmed the move, saying the current security situation in Lebanon, which has significantly improved over the past weeks due to a new security plan, allowed for tourists to return.
Lebanon’s security deteriorated quickly following a series of suicide car bombings linked to the crisis in Syria, prompting several states, primarily in the Gulf, to warn against traveling to the country.
The travel advisory was first imposed in mid-2012, inflicting crippling losses on the country's tourism sector.
“The travel ban was lifted a few days after Asiri returned in Lebanon early May and we are optimistic about the summer season in Lebanon,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are expected to do the same if they have not done it already, because there was coordination over the Saudi kingdom's decision with these two countries,” the source said. “As for Qatar and Kuwait, we do not know."
Asiri, who left Lebanon in September 2013, citing the deteriorating security situation, returned to Lebanon with his family in early May to resume his diplomatic role.
The source said the security situation in Lebanon was expected to remain calm, which would encourage Gulf tourists to visit the country.
Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that it had invited Iran's foreign minister to visit, hinting at the possibility of a thaw between the two bitter rivals.
The countries' struggle for influence is evident in conflicts throughout the region, and a rapprochement would have ramifications across the Middle East, potentially cooling political and military struggles in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.
It could also lead to positive developments for Lebanon, which is currently experiencing a presidential election stalemate.
After the meeting with the Lebanese officials, Asiri said the two reassured him that the Lebanese government would continue implementing the security plan and that authorities were keen on the safety and security of Saudi citizens in Lebanon.
Asiri expressed hope that “Lebanese authorities continue to implement the security plan so that Lebanon can move to a secure phase in which the country can hold the presidential election on time and have a promising summer season that would allow tourists to return to this dear country and revive the economy.”
Asiri then thanked both ministers for the visit, praising their efforts and voicing optimism that the plan would achieve its desired goals.
Machnouk told Asiri that the Interior Ministry was following up with help of Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi on the trials of Saudi detainees to speed up the judicial trial.