Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Treasury Identifies Kassem Rmeiti & Co. for Exchange and Halawi Exchange Co. as Financial Institutions of “Primary Money Laundering Concern”


In First Use of Section 311 Against a Non-Bank Financial Institution, Treasury Acts to Protect the U.S. Financial System from Foreign Exchange Houses Tied to Global Narcotics and Money Laundering Networks and Hizballah

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today named two Lebanese exchange houses, Kassem Rmeiti & Co. For Exchange (Rmeiti Exchange) and Halawi Exchange Co. (Halawi Exchange), as foreign financial institutions of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Section 311) – the first time the Department has used Section 311 against a non-bank financial institution. Today's action reflects the Treasury Department's continuing commitment to target illicit financial networks that launder millions of dollars in funds for narcotics traffickers and that, in the process, provide substantial financial benefits to the terrorist organization Hizballah. This action will protect the U.S. financial system from these activities and expose entities supporting the network of designated drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa.

"Following Treasury's action against the Lebanese Canadian Bank, the Joumaa narcotics network turned to Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange to handle its money laundering needs," said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. "As our actions against the Lebanese Canadian Bank, Joumaa and the two exchange houses today make clear, the Treasury Department, working with our partners across the Federal government, will aggressively expose and disrupt sophisticated multi-national money laundering organizations that handle drug proceeds for criminal enterprises including the terrorist group Hizballah."

The Treasury Department's 311 action against Lebanese Canadian Bank in February 2011, as well as designations in January 2011 of Ayman Joumaa and two exchange houses, Hassan Ayash Exchange and Ellissa Exchange, exposed the Joumaa network's money laundering scheme and forced these financial institutions out of the U.S. and international financial systems.

Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange subsequently picked up the network's money laundering work, including the trade-based money laundering schemes involving used car dealerships in the United States and consumer goods from Asia. Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange used their foreign money transmitter businesses to process millions of dollars on behalf of narcotics traffickers and money launderers, and attempted to obfuscate the source of illicit funds by comingling or splitting transactions across a variety of businesses, financial institutions, and continents, including in the United States.

In conjunction with today's findings that Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange are foreign financial institutions of primary money laundering concerns, Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) also issued an order, effective immediately and with a 120-day duration, that requires U.S. financial institutions to report information on any new or attempted transactions by Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange. Treasury also today issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that, if adopted as a final rule, would continue the reporting requirement imposed by the order and prohibit any U.S. financial institution from opening or maintaining a correspondent or payable-through account that is used to process a transaction that involves Rmeiti Exchange and Halawi Exchange, effectively cutting off these exchanges from the U.S. financial system.

The Treasury Department will continue to work with the Lebanese Central Bank and other relevant Lebanese authorities to address concerns highlighted by today's action.

These actions would not have been possible without considerable support from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the New Jersey State Police.

Kassem Rmeiti and Co. For Exchange

Rmeiti Exchange, its ownership, management, and associates facilitate extensive transactions for money launderers and drug traffickers. Between 2008 and March 2011, Rmeiti Exchange and its owner provided at least $25 million in payments to U.S.-based car dealers and exporters associated with the Joumaa narcotics and money laundering network. Some of these car dealers and exporters have been named in a civil money laundering and forfeiture action against the Lebanese Canadian Bank, drug kingpins Ayman Joumaa and Ali Mohamed Kharroubi, and Elissa Exchange and Hassan Ayash Exchange, brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

Rmeiti Exchange and its management have also conducted financial activities for other money laundering and drug trafficking organizations operating in both Europe and Africa. Between March 2011 and October 2012, Rmeiti Exchange facilitated the movement of at least $1.7 million for Beninoise and Lebanese money launderers and drug traffickers. This included Rmeiti Exchange and Kassem Rmeiti taking on large cash deposits, collecting bulk cash currency, issuing cashier's checks, and facilitating cross-border wire transfers on behalf of known and suspected money launderers, drug traffickers, and Hizballah affiliates.

As of December 2011, we believe that Hizballah had replaced U.S.-designated Elissa Exchange owner Ali Kharroubi with Haitham Rmeiti – the manager/owner of STE Rmeiti – as a key facilitator for wiring money and transferring Hizballah funds. Rmeiti Exchange, through its owner, Kassem Rmeiti, owns STE Rmeiti. Treasury believes that this activity demonstrates Hizballah's efforts to adapt after U.S. Government disruptive actions, and illustrates the need for continued action against its financial facilitators.

Halawi Exchange Co. ("Halawi Exchange")

Halawi Exchange represents a substantial threat to the U.S. and international financial systems, given its extensive illicit financial activity on behalf of a variety of international narcotics trafficking and money laundering networks. Halawi Exchange often employs deceptive practices to disguise this illicit financial activity to mislead U.S. and international banking institutions.

Halawi Exchange facilitates transactions for a network of individuals and companies which launder money through the purchase and sale of used cars in the United States for export to West Africa. In support of this network, management, ownership, and key employees of Halawi Exchange coordinate transactions – processed within and outside of Halawi Exchange – on behalf of Benin-based money launderers and their associates. For example, in early 2012, Halawi Exchange, including its management, ownership, and key employees were involved in arranging multiple wire transfers totaling over $4 million on behalf of one such money laundering network. As of mid-2012, central figures in this scheme planned to move $224 million worth of vehicle shipping contracts through this same network via a Halawi-owned Benin-based car lot, which receives vehicle shipments from the United States.

As of late 2012, Benin-based money launderers continued to use Halawi Exchange to wire transfer money to U.S. car suppliers in support of their money laundering operations. The proceeds of car sales were hand-transported in the form of bulk cash U.S. dollars from Cotonou, Benin to Beirut, Lebanon via air travel and deposited directly into one of the Halawi Exchange offices, which allowed bulk cash deposits to be made without requiring documentation of where the money originated. Halawi Exchange, through its network of established international exchange houses, initiated wire transfers from its bank accounts to the United States without using the Lebanese banking system in order to avoid scrutiny associated with Treasury's designations of Hassan Ayash Exchange, Elissa Exchange, and its Lebanese Canadian Bank Section 311 Action. Money was then wire transferred via Halawi's banking relationships indirectly to the United States through countries that included China, Singapore, and the UAE, which were perceived to receive less scrutiny by the U.S. Government.

Additionally, Halawi Exchange is known to have laundered profits from drug trafficking and cocaine-related money laundering networks for a leading Hizballah official and narcotics trafficker. Halawi Exchange has also been routinely used by other Hizballah associates as a means to transfer illicit funds.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly 30th Anniversary of the U.S. Embassy, Beirut Bombing

April 18, 2013
We are here today to remember our colleagues who were taken from us 30 years ago today, in a terrible bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Ain el-Mreisseh. A huge bomb exploded in front of the embassy and sheared off a large part of the building. 52 staff of the U.S. mission died that day; many others were wounded. For those who lost their lives, the story was finished. For those who survived, years of loss and grief and trauma and hardship and recovery followed. Some of you here today are among those survivors. I remember our destroyed embassy often: when I pass the site along the Corniche or sometimes when I enter our compound here through the barriers designed to defend against another truck bombing, I remember those whom we lost. I know the survivors and the families of the victims remember that awful day every day and they always will.
The bombing of Embassy Beirut in 1983 opened a new chapter in America's history in the Middle East. The first of what would be three attacks on Americans, and Lebanese colleagues in Beirut in 17 months, it was a bloody rite of passage. Shown on televisions and splayed across newspapers throughout the world, the April, 1983 bombing taught Americans that peaceful intentions were not enough to protect us from those who would use terror to achieve their aims in the Middle East. It taught us the stakes of involvement in this region.
For Lebanese, these dangers were nothing new. Eight years into your own war at that time, senseless killing and random destruction were all too familiar. The Americans and Lebanese working in Embassy Beirut in 1983 were striving to return stability to Lebanon and the region. The saying goes, "They came in peace." And so they did. The very presence of the embassy in the midst of the war underway in Lebanon was an assertion of hope – that Lebanon would soon return to normal life. Unfortunately, many more years were to pass before Lebanon achieved a degree of stability. Even today, Lebanon's normalcy is a fragile thing that requires constant attention. The eruption of civil war in Syria reminds us here just how quickly the failure to respect democratic institutions and the use of terrorist attacks to prevent change can plunge any country into chaos and violence.
As was the case in Lebanon in 1983 and is the situation in Syria in 2013, violence and destruction come as the result when mechanisms for bringing about change, addressing grievances, alleviating tensions, and reducing frustrations have all failed. Once the cycle begins, it is difficult to break. Each act of violence breeds a violent response. A cult of victimization grows on both sides, each side finding justification for its bloody revenge in the brutal act of the other.
Violence between armies or militias or armed groups is terrible but in human history it has become accepted. Violence against unarmed civilians, however, has never been morally acceptable. The Americans and Lebanese and others killed in 1983 came in peace, but they were met with violence. They were victims of terrorism.
Terrorist groups always claim a high-minded ideology and then commit the most inhuman acts in its defense. Terrorist groups may claim the moral high ground but they exploit poverty, desperation, fear, immaturity, and alienation. They claim to be serving lofty goals, even heavenly objectives, but they do so by feeding in the gutters of drug-dealing and money-laundering. Terrorist groups assassinate their political enemies to eliminate competition and they engage in violent, destructive acts to intimidate people into obedience because they know they cannot succeed through peaceful persuasion. Terrorist groups are internal dictatorships seeking to impose external dictatorships over society. They claim they seek justice but in fact they fear the freedoms fundamental to a just society. They reject freedom of expression or conscience; they reject accountability; they do not brook criticism.
In 1983, the staff of Embassy Beirut came in peace but a terrorist group chose them as its target and killed 52 people. But ultimately the terrorists failed. Because Embassy Beirut re-established itself here, on this compound, and went back to work. And when terrorists chose to attack us again in 1984, they found it was harder to kill us. We went back to work again and we have worked hard ever since, day in, day out. We come in peace every day and we always will. In the end, the terrorists always fail.
1983 and 1984 were very hard years for us. We suffered many losses. And the losses haven't stopped. Just last week, a young American Foreign Service Officer, Anne Smedinghoff, died in Afghanistan along with equally young soldiers. In September of last year, Ambassador Chris Stevens along with his colleagues Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty died horribly in Benghazi. But just as we continue our work here in Lebanon, our colleagues will continue in Afghanistan and Libya and around the world. The work we do is too important to allow mere terrorists to stop us.
I would like to quote part of a poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
We cannot bring back those whom we lost in 1983 and 1984. But we can honor their memories and the memories all those who have fallen to terrorism by ensuring we do not lack conviction. We must not allow the terrorists' "passionate intensity" or their willingness to use violence against men, women, and children to intimidate us. We will fight back by upholding the standards of a civilized society, by remaining true to our moral compass; we will demonstrate the hollowness of the terrorists' claims to virtue by revealing their true nature; we will oppose their attempts to impose tyranny by insisting on elections and free expression and accountability and justice. We will uphold the U.S. commitment to a sovereign, independent, and stable Lebanon. Because in a truly sovereign Lebanon, in a truly independent Lebanon, in a truly stable Lebanon, the terrorists will not thrive. The terrorists will not survive.
And we will do that just by coming to work each day. Because we are Embassy Beirut and that is what we do.
Thank you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

30th Anniversary of the Embassy Beirut Bombing

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 17, 2013

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, the United States celebrates close cooperation with the people of Lebanon that proves the enemies of democracy failed.

On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with 2,000 pounds of explosives in front of Embassy Beirut, in what was then the single largest attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility.

This act of terrorism killed 52 American diplomats, military personnel, and Lebanese Embassy colleagues. It also wounded more than 100 Americans and Lebanese.

As we reflect on that day, we also remember another terrorist attack later that year against the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, as well as a third attack on the Beirut Embassy a year later.

All the Americans lost in these acts of terror had come in peace. They and our cherished Lebanese colleagues made the ultimate sacrifice through their service.

Hizballah and other terrorist organizations like it hoped through these violent attacks to deter the United States from maintaining our strong relationship with the Lebanese people, and from working with all elements of Lebanese society to insure the stability and sovereignty of Lebanon.

Yet the last 30 years of close cooperation between the United States and Lebanon - especially at the people-to-people level - proves the terrorists' goals were not achieved.

They underestimated the resolve of the United States to fight terrorism and to bring terrorists to justice wherever they may lurk, resolve renewed this week following the cowardly bombings in my hometown of Boston.

The recent loss of State Department colleagues in Zabul, Ankara, and Benghazi remind us of the sacrifices made by our colleagues around the world who work at U.S. diplomatic missions to promote and protect democracy, enhance freedom and justice, and facilitate development.

Just as we did 30 years ago, the United States today steadfastly supports the Lebanese people and their continued advance toward a sovereign, stable, independent, and prosperous nation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

U.S. Ambassador Meets with Caretaker Prime Minister Mikati

April 16, 2013
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly met with Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati today. Caretaker Prime Minister Mikati and the Ambassador discussed bilateral relations as well as the political and security situation in Lebanon and regional events.

Ambassador Connelly conveyed the United States' appreciation for Caretaker Prime Minster Mikati's ongoing efforts to preserve Lebanon's stability and to fulfill Lebanon's international obligations. She also expressed U.S. support for the extraordinary efforts exerted by Lebanese leaders to adhere to Lebanon's legal and constitutional framework to hold timely parliamentary elections.

 The Ambassador conveyed U.S. condolences for the recent tragic deaths and injuries of Lebanese nationals from attacks originating from inside Syria that have struck Lebanese villages. She condemned the shelling and reiterated the U.S. call on all parties in the region to avoid any actions that would exacerbate the crisis in Syria, increase the propensity for spillover violence, and negatively impact civilian populations.

The Ambassador renewed the commitment of the United States to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

Friday, April 12, 2013

U.S. Ambassador Meets Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam

 April 12, 2013 - U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly met with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam today. The Prime Minister-designate and Ambassador discussed bilateral relations and the political and security situation in Lebanon.
Ambassador Connelly congratulated Prime Minister-designate Salam on his nomination, which she noted was a positive first step in efforts to form a new government. This process is, and must be, a Lebanese process. She reiterated the United States position that the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and that strengthens Lebanon's stability, sovereignty, and independence while fulfilling its international obligations. She encouraged the continued work of responsible Lebanese leaders to adhere to Lebanon's legal and constitutional framework to hold timely parliamentary elections.
The Ambassador renewed the commitment of the United States to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

U.S. Ambassador Meets President Sleiman

April 10, 2013
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly met with President Michel Sleiman today. The President and Ambassador discussed bilateral relations as well as the political and security situation in Lebanon and regional events.
Ambassador Connelly welcomed the President's nomination of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam as a positive first step in efforts to form a new government. This process is, and must be, a Lebanese process. She reiterated the United States' position that the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and that strengthens Lebanon's stability, sovereignty, and independence while fulfilling its international commitments.
Ambassador Connelly further underscored that Lebanon's democratic process is an immensely valuable achievement that serves as an example to the region, especially during this period of democratic change in the Middle East. She conveyed the United States' appreciation for the extraordinary efforts exerted by President Sleiman and other responsible leaders to adhere to Lebanon's legal and constitutional framework to hold timely parliamentary elections.
The Ambassador renewed the commitment of the United States to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Travel Warning - Lebanon

Bureau of Consular Affairs


April 01, 2013

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns. U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks. This supersedes the Travel Warning issued on September 17, 2012, to emphasize information on security, kidnappings, and an upsurge in violence in Lebanon and the region.

The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains. Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly. Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning. The ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may be severely limited.

The Fulbright and the English Language Fellow programs that provided grants to U.S. scholars to live and work in Lebanon during the academic year remain suspended in country because of the security situation and the increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon.

A number of extremist groups operate in Lebanon, including some, such as Hizballah, that the U.S. government has designated as terrorist organizations. U.S. citizens have been the target of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past, and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist in Lebanon. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should keep a low profile, assess their personal security, and vary times and routes for all required travel. U.S. citizens also should pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners generally are known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.

Hizballah maintains a strong presence in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley, and areas in South Lebanon. The situation remains tense, and sporadic violence involving Hizballah or other extremist or criminal organizations remains a possibility in many areas of the country. The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens that clashes between Lebanese authorities and criminal elements have also recently occurred in other areas of the Bekaa and border regions.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has also resulted in numerous security incidents in the border regions between Lebanon and Syria and coincides with an increasing number of security incidents around the country. Over the past year there have been regular reports of shelling, originating from Syria, of Lebanese border areas and villages, some of which has resulted in deaths and injuries, as well as reports of armed groups originating from Syria who have kidnapped or attacked Lebanese citizens living in the border area. On February 1, 2013, gunmen on the outskirts of the village of Arsal killed two soldiers in a retaliatory shoot-out when the army was in pursuit of a wanted suspect. Two Lebanese nationals were killed and several were injured due to shelling in northern Lebanon February 23-24. The potential for border violence remains and the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid the Lebanese-Syrian border region.

U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political and security developments in Syria, as this may impact the security situation in Lebanon. On August 9, 2012 the Lebanese Internal Security Force (ISF) arrested former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha on charges of having plotted, at the direction of Syrian regime officials, to destabilize Lebanon by setting explosions and planning to assassinate certain Lebanese officials living in Tripoli or the northern region of Akkar. On October 19, 2012, Wissam al-Hassan, Chief of the Information Branch of the ISF was assassinated in a car bombing in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut. Two other people died, and many others were injured in the blast. There have been increasing numbers of armed clashes with heightened sectarian tensions in the Tripoli neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, in areas of the Bekaa, and in Sidon.

Hizballah and other para-military groups have at times detained U.S. citizens or other foreigners for political motivations as well as for interrogation – sometimes for hours or longer. Kidnapping, whether for ransom or political motives, remains a problem in Lebanon. Suspects in kidnappings sometimes have been found to have ties to terrorist or criminal organizations.

On August 16, 2012, the Maqdad clan in Lebanon kidnapped numerous Syrians and two Turkish nationals and claimed its actions were aimed at pressing for the release of one of their family members being held prisoner in Syria, allegedly by a group supporting the Syrian opposition.

Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to pay ransom.

Demonstrators sometimes block the primary road between downtown Beirut and Rafiq Hariri International Airport without warning. Access to the airport also may be cut off, sometimes for extended periods, if the security situation deteriorates.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is a body the United Nations and Lebanon created to investigate past political assassinations. On June 30, 2011, the STL delivered to Lebanon's Prosecutor General an indictment containing arrest warrants for four Hizballah members who are still at large.

Beginning March 1, 2012 the United Nations renewed the STL's mandate for a second three-year term. U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political developments, particularly in relation to the STL, as Lebanese political leaders have warned publicly that the Tribunal's findings could spark civil unrest.

Rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel have occurred in the past and remain a potential threat. These attacks frequently provoke a military response from Israel. The rocket attacks and responses occur with no warning. Skirmishes and tense exchanges between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as protesters and civilians, along Lebanon's southern border with Israel also may occur with no warning. On May 15, 2011, several demonstrators were killed and several, including a U.S. citizen, were severely wounded near the southern Lebanese border town of Maroun ar-Ras after clashes with Israel resulted in open gunfire. Landmines and unexploded ordnance pose significant dangers throughout southern Lebanon, particularly south of the Litani River, as well as in areas of the country where fighting was intense during the civil war. More than 40 civilians have been killed and over 300 injured by unexploded ordnance remaining from the July-August 2006 Israel-Hizballah war. Travelers should watch for posted landmine warnings and strictly avoid all areas where landmines and unexploded ordnance may be present.

Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the United States operate largely autonomously inside refugee and military camps in different areas of the country. Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Palestinian camps. Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with alleged links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S., and other foreign government interests. Although the group has been outlawed by the Lebanese government, it continues to maintain a presence in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.

Armed clashes, exchanges of gunfire, and incidents involving thrown grenades have all occurred, as recently as February 27, 2013, in the areas surrounding Tyre and Sidon. Similar incidents could occur again without warning.

U.S. citizens traveling or resident in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should be aware that the U.S. Embassy's ability to reach all areas of Lebanon is limited. The Embassy cannot guarantee that Embassy employees will be able to render assistance to U.S. citizens in all areas of the country.

In the event that the security climate in Lebanon and the region worsens, U.S. citizens will be responsible for arranging their own travel out of Lebanon. U.S. citizens should be aware that the embassy does not offer "protection" services to individuals who feel unsafe. U.S. citizens with special medical or other needs should be aware of the risks of remaining given their condition, and should be prepared to seek treatment in Lebanon if they cannot arrange for travel out of the country.

U.S. government-facilitated evacuations, such as the evacuation that took place from Lebanon in 2006, occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist. Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the U.S. Government for travel costs. The lack of a valid U.S. passport may hinder U.S. citizens' ability to depart the country and may slow the U.S. Embassy's ability to provide assistance. U.S. citizens in Lebanon should therefore ensure that they have proper and current documentation at all times. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents should consult with the Department of Homeland Security before they depart the United States to ensure they have proper documentation to re-enter. Further information on the Department's role during emergencies is provided within the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. Government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions. The internal security policies of the U.S. Embassy may be adjusted at any time and without advance notice. These practices limit, and may occasionally prevent, access by U.S. Embassy officials to certain areas of the country. Because of security concerns, unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members is discouraged and strictly limited and requires the Department of State's prior approval.

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Lebanon should enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at the Bureau of Consular Affairs website to receive the latest travel updates and information and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon. Public access hours for U.S. citizens are Monday; Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., U.S. citizens must make appointments in advance. U.S. citizens who require emergency services outside these hours, however, may contact the embassy by telephone at any time. The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209.

Information on consular services and enrollment in STEP can also be found at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut's website or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday local time. Inquiries may also be sent to BeirutACS@state.gov

Up-to-date information on travel and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

For further information, U.S. citizens should consult the Department of State's Country Specific Information for Lebanon. You can also stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which also contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.