Beirut (AFP) – Lebanon said Friday it was preparing to re-route flights from Beirut airport after Russia requested they avoid an area over the eastern Mediterranean because of three days of military manoeuvres.
Russia, which is carrying out air strikes in neighbouring Syria, “has asked the Lebanese authorities that planes leaving Beirut airport towards the west avoid overflying an area in Mediterranean territorial waters because of manoeuvres on Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter said.
Later, a senior airport official said discussions were under way with the Russian authorities on the routes flights would take.
Rather than departing towards the west, or approaching from that direction, flights would be directed to first fly south above Sidon and Sarafand to “keep them away from the perimeter of the manoeuvres,” he said.
While no details were given on where the Russian exercises would take place, the Syrian coast is due north of Lebanon’s, so redirecting air traffic to the south would lower any risks.
No details were available on the nature of the manoeuvres, as Moscow has made no public announcement about them and officials at the Russian defence ministry could not be reached for comment.
In Beirut, the foreign ministry said Lebanon had “not received any official request… from Moscow. It was the Lebanese air traffic control that received a fax from the Russian navy.”
Since September 30, Russia has waged a campaign of air raids and missile strikes against rebels and the jihadist Islamic State group, in support of the forces of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.