Coronavirus: US asks for help repatriating trapped citizens in Syria

With Lebanese-Syrian border closed, ambassador to Lebanon raised the issue with Lebanese PM

epa08371628 Cars cross a road sign calling people to stay at home during curfew lockdown against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on the Airport highway in Beirut, Lebanon, 19 April 2020. Authorities announced on 26 March a curfew from 7:00 pm until 5:00 am local due to the ongoing pandemic of the Covid-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.  EPA/WAEL HAMZEH
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The US ambassador to Lebanon met with the country’s prime minister earlier this week in a bid for assistance to repatriate a group of American citizens trapped in Syria due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Diplomatic sources declined to give details on how many US citizens were trapped and what they were doing in Syria, but a US State Department official admitted that cases involving US citizens in Syria and other countries “where we do not have a diplomatic presence, particularly during this pandemic crisis, are extremely complex.”

"We do have a group of citizens seeking to get out of Syria," a separate US diplomat confirmed to The National. The diplomat said that the closed Lebanese border was blocking their return.

The US Embassy in Beirut was working on the case, the diplomat added.

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea met with Lebanon's prime minister and raised the issue, an aide to Prime Minister Hassan Diab told The National.

“Ambassador Shea mentioned this issue [of US citizens in Syria looking to get out via Lebanon],” the aide said.

Asked if Ms Shea requested Lebanon’s help, the State Department official said the substance of private diplomatic conversations are not discussed.

The official noted that Washington is working to provide assistance to all of its citizens on a case-by-case basis. "Despite border and airport closures, we continue to assess potential repatriation options for US citizens stranded in the region," the official told The National.

It is unclear if the American citizens are in regime-held territories and the reason for their presence in Syria is unknown.

The Lebanese-Syrian border was closed last month following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, fighters from Iranian-backed Hezbollah continue to travel between the two countries. An Israeli airstrike targeted a Hezbollah SUV earlier this month as it was travelling from Damascus to the border crossing with Lebanon.