Postcard from... Beirut


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The Independent Online

It was meant to be a visit to promote the protection of Lebanon's cultural heritage, but it didn't quite go to plan.

If the US ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, had hoped for positive headlines out of her trip to the ancient ruins of Tyre to discuss ways that the US could help contribute to the protection of the "rich, cultural heritage" of the site, they weren't forthcoming.

"Connelly's convoy violates Tyre's antiquities," read an article on Al Manar's website, accompanied by a picture of one of the delegation's armour-plated, four-wheel drives hanging precariously over the side of a track having knocked over a stone wall. Tyre's famous triumphal Roman arch stands tall in the background.

The car was winched out soon after, but the backfire for US cultural diplomacy had already been unleashed. The embassy released a statement saying that the ambassador expresses "regret" for the incident and is working with the relevant ministries to pay for the damages. It pointed out that the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation has funded two projects in Tyre, including restoring the funerary complex at the al-Bass necropolis. It said the wall was a modern construct to shore up the road.

However, archaeologists have told news outlets that the road through the ruins is not meant for vehicles, and to get to it the convoy would have had to drive down an ancient Byzantine pathway.

"The act could be considered a message from the embassy, that its staff and vehicles can enter anywhere without any considerations," Al Manar said.