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US warns citizens against Lebanon travel

BEIRUT, Jan 5, (Agencies): The US embassy in Beirut on Sunday warned its citizens against travel to Lebanon after a wave of bomb attacks, and to exercise “extreme caution” in areas Americans normally frequent. “Following recent bombings in #Beirut & other violence in recent months USG strongly urges US citizens in #Lebanon 2 exercise extreme caution,” the embassy said on Twitter. US nationals should “avoid hotels, western- style shopping centers, incl westernstyle grocery chains & public/social events where US citz normally congregate,” the embassy added. “As these sites are likely targets for terrorist attacks for at least the near term... @USEmbassybeirut further urges all US citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to safety and security concerns,” it said.

The United States has regularly warned its citizens against travel to Lebanon. Its latest warning comes after a series of bomb attacks targeting several areas of Beirut. On Thursday, a suicide car blast killed four people in the Shiite Hezbollah bastion. An al-Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday. On Dec 27, a car bomb attack killed eight people including a former minister opposed to the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That attack took place in the heart of the Lebanese capital. Analysts say Lebanon is suffering an accelerating wave of violence that reflects the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which in nearly three years has killed nearly 130,000 people. One man was shot dead and six people were wounded in clashes on Sunday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between districts that support rival sides in neighbouring Syria’s civil war. Medical and security sources said sniper fire killed the civilian from Tripoli’s Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tabbaneh district, whose residents overwhelmingly support the Sunni rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Two others from the area were wounded in the fighting, in addition to four people from the Alawite neighborhood of Jebel Mohsen, which supports the Alawite Syrian leader. The latest fighting erupted in the Tripoli neighbourhoods adjacent to Bab al- Tabbaneh and Jebel Mohsen, where clashes have flared several times in recent months, killing dozens. Soldiers were deployed to the districts last month following another episode of violence in Tripoli, 30 kms (20 miles) from the Syrian border, where divisions reflect the sectarian gulf across Lebanon over Syria’s civil war.

Tensions between the Sunni Muslim majority and small Alawite community in the city have festered for decades and it has seen some of the heaviest violence in Lebanon in the past year. On Saturday, the funeral was held in the village of Hnaider close to the Syrian border for the suspected suicide bomber in Thursday’s attack on the southern suburbs of Beirut. A Reuters photographer in the village said gunmen prevented journalists from attending the ceremony and reported heavy gunfire in the area. The army identified the perpetrator as 19-year-old Qutaiba Mohamad al-Satem. Lebanese media reported he was in his second year of university as a civil engineering student. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least five people, said it had targeted Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah. ISIL, an al-Qaeda affiliate, is fighting to topple Assad and establish an Islamic state in Syria, while Hezbollah has sent fighters to support the government there. Several prominent Lebanese politicians and media figures opposed to Syria’s regime and its ally Hezbollah have been threatened, the official National News Agency reported on Sunday.

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