PARIS (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will not stop Lebanese from travelling to the country despite a diplomatic dispute between Beirut and Gulf Arab states, a senior Emirati official said on Tuesday.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.
Several Kuwait newspapers this month reported that Kuwait has suspended issuing visas to Lebanese citizens.
Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, told reporters that Abu Dhabi would continue humanitarian support to Beirut and did not want Lebanese citizens to suffer more because of the country’s political and economic crisis.
“We will not do anything that will hurt the Lebanese as private individuals, as citizens. We have taken a decision that it will not effect the ordinary Lebanese who are able to travel to the UAE,” Gargash said.
For Lebanon’s damaged economy, the big concern would be any measures affecting the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who work in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the dollars they send home to a nation drowning in poverty.
“We had an informal dialogue with Lebanon for a long time saying that Lebanon losing its bridge with Gulf would be harmful, but none (of these messages) were heeded and when the crisis hit Lebanon it had no Arab support,” he said.
“They thought it was a storm and would go away.”
Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Arab monarchies once spent billions of dollars in aid in Lebanon, and still provide jobs and a haven for much of Lebanon’s diaspora. But the friendship has been strained for years by the growing influence of Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Grant McCool)