Britain orders staff to leave Lebanon embassy amid security concerns

Britain orders staff to leave embassy in Lebanon due to ‘security’ amid fears the country could be sucked into Israel war, sparking civil unrest

  • Temporary withdrawal of embassy staff marks ramping up of safety precautions
  • Comes as Israel’s Defence Forces continue to trade fire with Hezbollah at border 

Britain’s Foreign Office has declared it will withdraw some British embassy staff from Lebanon amid concerns that fighting between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah could spiral out of control. 

The FCDO said this morning it had already advised Britons against all travel to Lebanon due to the conflict between neighbouring Israel and Gaza, and encouraged any Britons still in the country to leave while commercial flights remain.

But the temporary withdrawal of embassy staff marks a ramping up of safety precautions as Israel’s Defence Forces (IDF) traded fire with Hezbollah militants at the border over the weekend.

‘There are ongoing mortar and artillery exchanges and air strikes in South Lebanon, on the boundary with Israel. Tensions are high and events could escalate with little warning, which could affect or limit exit routes out of Lebanon,’ an FCDO statement read. 

‘Due to the security situation, some staff at the British embassy and all family members of staff have been temporarily withdrawn. The embassy continues with essential work including services to British nationals.’

On Sunday, the IDF’s Chief of Staff Lt. General Herzi Halevi said his army is prepared to go on the offence in Lebanon if needed.

‘We set a goal of restoring a significantly better security situation on the borders, not only in the Gaza Strip,’ Halevi declared during an assessment at the 210th Division in northern Israel.

‘We are ready at any moment to go on the offence in the north. We understand that it can happen, and we trust you that the defence here is strong,’ he added.

His statement came one day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to escalate the war against Israel, warning of a ‘true battle’.

Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Aita al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. The Lebanon-Israel border has been the site of regular clashes between Israeli forces on one side and Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups on the other since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war

Smoke rises after Israeli airstrike on the mountainous areas around Rachaya Al Foukhar and Kfarhamam villages of Hasbaya District of the Nabatieh Governorate in Lebanon on November 04, 2023

Palestinian activists shout slogans during a march to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza outside of the British embassy in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, 13 October 2023

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah watch a televised speech by its leader Hassan Nasrallah in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on November 3, 2023

In a televised speech Saturday, the Hezbollah leader praised the Al-Aqsa Flood – the name used by Hamas for its vicious assault last month.

He said the ‘glorious jihadi operation’ had led to an ‘earthquake’ in the Jewish state, revealed the weakness of Israel and its army, and established a new historical phase in the battle.

He then turned his ire on the US, which days ago deployed a pair of aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean to conduct naval drills – seen widely as a show of force to discourage Israel’s foes in the region from escalation. 

The US also acknowledged over the weekend it had dispatched an Ohio-class submarine to the Middle East. Some of these submarines carry nuclear warheads, while others carry cruise missiles and the capability to deploy with special operations forces.

‘Your fleet in the Mediterranean do not scare us… We are ready to face the fleet you threaten us with,’ Nasrallah said. 

‘Whoever wants to prevent a regional war must quickly stop the aggression on Gaza.’

The United States ‘impedes a ceasefire and the end of the aggression’, he added.

Nasrallah’s heavily armed group, backed by Iran, carried out simultaneous attacks on Israeli positions along the Lebanese border, as residents of south Lebanon reported the fiercest Israeli strikes yet over the weekend. 

The IDF said its planes had struck Hezbollah targets in retaliation for their attack and combined the air strikes with artillery and tank shelling.

Meanwhile, British citizens trapped in Gaza are facing the ‘excruciating’ prospect of leaving without their family members after the Foreign Office left those without UK passports off the safe passage list, a group representing them has said.

The FCDO has begun putting names of British citizens on to the list of those allowed to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing to Egypt. 

But some British citizens have said their dependants without British passports have not been included on the safe passage list.

The Rafah crossing is the only route out of Gaza for foreign nationals and the sole entry point for incoming aid.

It did not reopen on Sunday, despite UK hopes that the situation could be resolved to allow more Britons to escape.

Mourners carry the coffin of Hezbollah member Ali Ibrahim Ramity, killed a day earlier in southern Lebanon in cross-border fire with Israeli troops, during his funeral in the capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on November 4, 2023

Women mourn Hezbollah member Ali Ibrahim Rumaiti, who was killed in southern Lebanon amid tension between Israel and Hezbollah, during his funeral, in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon, November 4, 2023

Palestinians with foreign passports at Rafah Border Gate wait to cross into Egypt as the Israeli airstrikes continue 

Some British citizens have said their dependants without British passports in Gaza have not been included on the safe passage list

The impasse in delicate diplomatic relations between Egypt, Israel and Hamas means UK nationals waiting by the border checkpoint have been stranded for a second day.

READ MORE: Top Hamas military commander claims October 7 attacks were never meant to target Israeli civilians as he breaks ranks to criticise terror group’s leaders ‘who changed the plan last-minute’ in extraordinary intervention 

The FCDO policy is in ‘stark contrast’ to the decisions made during the evacuation of Ukraine, where any family member of a British citizen would be provided with a visa, Support Families in Gaza said.

The policy also differs from those set by other countries, with British families reporting that the US is allowing anybody with an American family to leave, the group claims.

Britons were among those documented on an approved list to pass through the key border post on Saturday but many reported being turned away in an apparent row between Israel and the Palestinians over evacuating injured patients.

One person facing the difficult prospect of leaving family members behind said those with Palestinian heritage were being treated like ‘second-class citizens’.

The person – who did not wish to be identified – said: ‘When we got the call that I and other family members had been added to the list we found out that my dad’s wife is not on there.

‘My dad has had to leave his wife and other family members behind so he can get my young brothers to safety.

‘We know of at least one other family in this situation. It is heartbreaking, nobody should have to make this kind of choice. The world has lost its humanity.

‘It is even more difficult to understand when we know of somebody who lives in the US who has managed to get 19 family members evacuated even though not even one of them has an American passport.

‘We know FCDO have made exemptions in the past for people from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Sudan, it just feels like those of us with Palestinian heritage are always treated like second-class citizens.’

Louise Harkin, from the group Support Families in Gaza, said: ‘We have been in touch with organisations and lawyers who work to support people who have a right to come to the UK through different visa schemes, they have been quite clear that British Palestinians are being treated very differently to people fleeing the Ukraine conflict.

‘Gaza is currently the least safe place on the planet, almost 10,000 people are confirmed dead, almost half of whom are children, yet the Government now wants to separate British children from their mothers and families. We call upon the Government to allow British citizens to bring their families with them.’

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