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COUNTRIES WARN CITIZENS TO AVOID TRAVEL TO LEBANON

Saudi Arabia is warning its citizens against traveling to Lebanon, the U.S. Embassy is urging Americans to be vigilant and French cultural centers in two major Lebanese cities have temporarily closed.

Lebanon's intractable political crisis is no longer business as usual - not after the slaying last week of a top fugitive Hezbollah commander, Imad Mugniyah.

The killing prompted the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to declare "open war" against Israel, which Hezbollah and Iran accused in the assassination. Israel, which denied any role, went on high alert. A Hezbollah retaliation would most certainly draw Israel's wrath and risk igniting another war.

It also could sharpen Lebanon's internal turmoil between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the Western-backed government. Over the weekend, government and opposition supporters engaged in fistfights in the streets of Beirut in clashes that injured more than a dozen people and wrecked cars and shops - the latest in frictions between the two camps.

And even though most recent incidents of violence have not touched foreigners and have been quickly quelled by the army, they have heightened fears and increased a sense of vulnerability.

They also evoked memories of the civil war, when fighting, bombings, kidnappings and assassinations drove most foreigners out. Plus, scenes from the devastating 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war when many scrambled to flee the country are still on people's minds.

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