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Lebanon Once Again in Ruins

In 1990, Lebanon finally saw the end of a bloody and destructive civil war which had been raging within its borders since 1975 and had left most of the nation in ruin. Since then, with the help of substantial foreign investment, Lebanon’s economy had made a sound recovery. Rebuilding of cities and infrastructure began in earnest. After years of considerable progress, Lebanon had become a sought-after travel destination.

Many tourists were attracted to the capital city of Beirut, once known as “the Paris of the Middle East’ for its wide, picturesque avenues and cosmopolitan atmosphere (1). Beyond these modern, metropolitan attractions Lebanon boasts ancient archaeological sites such as Byblos, reported to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (2). During winter, travelers can choose from pristine Mediterranean beaches or snow skiing in the mountains (1).

In short time the tourism sector became one of the top two industries along with banking. Over 1.2 million tourists visited Lebanon in 2005 (3) and as of June of this year, visitor numbers from the first six months of 2006 were up 24% over the first half of 2005 (4). Lebanon was back.

Yet just as the Lebanese began to enjoy their successful recovery and relative stability, they have been dragged into yet another war, this time between Hezbollah, a Syrian-backed militant Shi’a political party in Lebanon, and neighboring Israel. As Israeli rockets pummel Lebanese villages and Beirut’s suburbs, reducing many newly-built structures into piles of rubble, most tourists are eager to be evacuated while others have fled to nearby Syria and Cyprus. The violence and unrest are having a devastating effect on Lebanon’s economy and it is now facing a serious humanitarian crisis. Israeli air strikes on Beirut’s Rafik al-Hariri International Airport as well as on seaports and roads have prevented both the departure of people and the import of aid, leaving tourists and residents alike in a dangerous situation. Human Rights Watch has called on Israel to allow safe passage of civilians and relief convoys in southern Lebanon (5,6). Still the number of civilian fatalities in the area continues to rise, including four United Nations observers killed by Israeli rockets.

With even the most necessary movement in the area being dangerous and talks of a ceasefire agreement continually reaching an impasse, it is uncertain when the region will see a halt in the fighting. Only then can Lebanon again set out down the long road to recovery.


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