Australians urged to leave Lebanon

Australian citizens in Lebanon are being urged to leave the nation as soon as possible as the Middle East conflict threatens to spread wider.

Foreign affairs officials say they have “every indication” that Australians in Lebanon are not listening to their advice to consider leaving the country, despite growing fears that the Israel-Gaza conflict could explode into a broader regional war.

Deputy Secretary Craig Maclachlan said Australians are not leaving Lebanon in the numbers they would like to see.

He also said just 400 of the 15,000 Australians estimated to be based in Lebanon have so far registered with the Department since it upgraded travel advice recommending people not travel to the country.

He stressed that Australians in the country should not assume the government would put on evacuation flights if the security situation in Lebanon deteriorated.

“The key message for Australians in Lebanon is to leave now because we cannot be certain — despite all the planning underway now — that we’ll be able to exercise those plans,” he said.

“[That’s] because we simply don’t know at this point what the nature of the security situation might be like.

In 2006 the Australian government evacuated more than 5,000 Australians from Lebanon when war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah

Maclachlan said the 2006 evacuation was “seared” into the mind of consular officials, but that the federal government would have fewer options to get Australians than they did back then.

“Some of these options are no longer available to us, we simply couldn’t, for obvious reasons, move people overland through Syria,” he said.

“Our ability to make use of airfields is unknown… [and] anecdotally we are hearing there are fewer ferries available in the Eastern Mediterranean than there were almost 20 years ago.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong also stressed that Australians in Lebanon needed to monitor the travel advice closely.

“The options this government would have available to assist Australians are more limited than they were in 2006, and the number of Australians in Lebanon is larger,” she said.