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French Version

Flights into Beirut are full - but not with tourists

Incoming flights to Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport have been fully booked from all over the world for the holiday rush. But the passengers are more often than not natives of Lebanon rather than tourists visiting the country. Many of those who are stepping onto the tarmac are returning home for a few weeks after having spent months abroad, either working or studying.

Flights into Beirut are full - but not with tourists

Twenty-four-year old Dima, a post-graduate student in Paris, arrived back in Lebanon after four months of study. The last time she was here was during the summer war with Israel.

"I came back to spend Christmas with my family especially because the last time I was here wasn't so relaxing and happy," she said. "I think a lot of people have the same idea, because my flight was full of Lebanese, mostly young people too."

"All of my French friends in Paris are saying I'm crazy to return," she added, when asked what peoples' reaction was to her coming home for the holidays. "They think it's too dangerous, and they keep insisting my family should move to Europe!"

Walid, a credit analyst who lives in Abu Dhabi, has also traveled back to spend some time with his family, friends, and girlfriend before heading back to work in the new year. "Personally I didn't think twice about coming back; my only concern was whether or not I would be physically able to. With the situation as it is, you never know if it could affect the airport," he said.

There were some, however, who were not quite so determined to return to Lebanon for fear of escalating tensions from the current anti-governmental protests. "I know quite a few people who were reluctant to come back because of the whole situation. Some even cancelled their flights," said Walid, "but I would say that on the whole, those Lebanese living abroad are very attached to the country, and most are willing to come back."

The airport was buzzing with chatter Friday as families gathered in their dozens, laden with balloons, flowers and gifts, to greet their loved ones for the holidays. Samar Jbeili was one of those whose family was waiting impatiently for her arrival.

Jbeili, an event planner based in California, stopped over in Paris to catch the connecting flight. "Usually the flight from Paris to Beirut is filled with a mixture of businessmen, families, and travelers from all kinds of nationalities, but this time the flight seemed to be exclusively Lebanese. I didn't see any 'foreigners,'" she said, going on to explain that her friends and neighbors in California were not too worried about her traveling as Lebanon was not really an issue for them. "They are all preoccupied with Iraq to really understand and worry about what is going on in Lebanon."

"I didn't really have many concerns about coming over; my family had already warned me to stay away from the protests and to just be careful," she continued, "but I think my only real worry is that I don't want to be evacuated."

Although the airport was full of freshly arrived faces eager to spend their holidays with family and friends, few of those seemed to be here to play the tourist. Maybe the summer will prove to be more successful.

Beirut 26-12-2006
Nour Samaha
The Daily Star

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