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Diplomat appeals for Lebanon unity

Britain's ambassador to Lebanon has made a plea for unity in the country after the UK Government advised against all but essential trips because of the threat of violence linked to Syria.

Tom Fletcher said he hopes that the upgraded travel advice by the Foreign Office, warning of danger to Western travellers, would be temporary and that it had not been done lightly.

The FCO said Britons should avoid all but essential travel to Lebanon because of a "heightened risk of anti-Western sentiment" linked to the possibility of military action against Syria. It also advised against all travel to several areas such as the border zone, the Mediterranean port of Tripoli and parts of the capital Beirut.

British nationals already in the country should consider leaving, it said.

Writing on the Foreign Office blog, Mr Fletcher, who has been the British representative in Beirut for two years, said: "Anyone who has read the posts on this blog knows how passionately I believe in Lebanon's future, and our role in it. This is an anxious time, and I know that many Lebanese are worried. But it is more important than ever that we focus on what unites rather than what divides."

Lebanon is the base of Hezbollah, a militant political movement which has links to Iran and which recently sided with the Assad regime in Syria. The country is experiencing raised tensions, particularly resulting from the uprising in neighbouring Syria which has sharply polarised the country along sectarian lines and between supporters and opponents of the regime of President Assad.

Last week two explosions killed at least 12 people outside two Sunni mosques in Tripoli.

Mr Fletcher said: "We remain determined to continue our contribution to Lebanon's stability. We continue to implement the UK's $120m (Corr) stability package. Last week I visited refugees in south Lebanon who were receiving aid from an NGO we support. Our Chief of Defence Staff visited Lebanon this week to meet Commander Kahwaji (of the Lebanese military) and consolidate our defence relationship. And, against the odds, UK-Lebanon trade is at record levels, at a time when people greatly need jobs and stable incomes in both our countries."

Lebanon has borne the brunt, along with Turkey and Jordan, of Syria's refugee crisis with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in the country.

The FCO advised people to avoid travelling to within three miles (5km) of the border with Syria, and said other areas to be avoided are Palestinian refugee camps, the Hermel district including Arsal and Baalbek, and the eastern Bekaa Valley. Areas to avoid in Beirut are south of the city's sports stadium to its airport and the neighbourhoods of Ghobeiry, Chuya, Haret, Hraik, Burj al Brajne, Mraije, Er Rouais and Laylake.

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