The Foreign Office has withdrawn some embassy staff from Lebanon and is advising UK nationals to leave the country while they still can amid increasing concern about potential violence and unrest connected to the conflict in Gaza.
“Events in Lebanon are fast moving. The situation has potential to deteriorate quickly and with no warning,” it said in a statement, saying Britons in Lebanon should register with the embassy and make plans to leave while it was still possible.
“Commercial routes out of Lebanon could be severely disrupted or cancelled at short notice and roads across the country could be closed,” it added.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said that given the risk of civil unrest, with mass protests outside some embassies last month, some embassy staffers and all family members of staff had been removed from the country.
The embassy remained open, and continued with “essential work including services to British nationals”.
The statement warned: “In the event of deterioration in the political or security situation, the British embassy may be increasingly limited in the assistance that it can provide. Do not rely on FCDO being able to evacuate you in an emergency.”
Claire Countinho, the energy secretary, said she had no further details on the plans. Asked if she was alarmed over the development, she told Sky News: “I think the whole situation has been very concerning, I think everyone would agree, and I think it’s really important that we do continue that diplomatic work.”
She added: “You’ll have seen in recent weeks that the prime minister, the defence secretary, the foreign secretary have all been in the region, and their concerns have been to make sure the conflict doesn’t escalate
“Everything that we’ve done has been to try and protect British nationals and make sure that we are de-escalating things in the region.”
In recent days, Israeli forces have carried out strikes in southern Lebanon, near the countries’ border, following mortar and rocket fire from Hezbollah into Israel. One Israeli strike killed three girls aged eight to 14 and their grandmother, with a Hezbollah MP calling this a “dangerous development”.
Clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli military have killed six Israeli soldiers and one civilian and an estimated 50 fighters from the Islamist organisation, with increasing concern that the fighting could widen.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, met senior Jordanian and other Arab officials at the weekend amid efforts by Washington to try to avert a regional escalation of the war between Israel and Hamas, as well as seeking ways to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.