Beirut: About 20 pro-government Lebanese lawmakers have temporarily left the conflict-ridden country this summer apparently seeking safety abroad amid mounting security threats and the assassination of an outspoken politician.

According to a count of legislators who have left Lebanon, more than two dozen, many from the leading majority party bloc, have flown out of the politically divided country over the past 10 days.

Though some of the legislators have since returned, 20 are still abroad. The trend reflects growing concern about their safety – and overall security in the country.

A senior Arab intelligence official said Lebanese lawmakers who are allied with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora have been advised to seek temporary shelter abroad after names appeared on a hit list. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

Eido killing

Many of the legislators have travelled to Egypt, an ally of the United States and Siniora’s government whose relations with Damascus have been tense in recent months, according to the official and other officials familiar with the travel plans.

On June 13, a car bomb killed Walid Eido, a pro-government lawmaker and fierce critic of Syria. He was the seventh high-profile anti-Syrian personality assassinated in the last two years.

Pro-government leaders have accused Syria of killing Eido to undermine Siniora’s government, which could fall if it loses two more Cabinet ministers or four legislators. Syria denies the accusations and has condemned the killing.

The Lebanese As Safir daily newspaper, which tilts toward the opposition that is led by Hezbollah, said in a June 20 report that "an Arab security agency chief has informed a number of leaders in the majority team that they should take summer vacation outside Lebanon." Another pro-opposition newspaper, Al Akhbar, on Friday also reported that arrangements were being made to move 65 pro-government lawmakers, or more than half the legislature, as well as 35 other politicians to Egypt and France. The report said party leaders would remain in Beirut.

One lawmaker from Lebanon’s majority who was staying in the country denied receiving warnings about moving abroad but added that some colleagues had left for their own safety.

"Some lawmakers have left Lebanon temporarily because they don’t have security capabilities to protect themselves," Samir Franjieh said. "There is no decision from our leadership or the Lebanese security authorities to leave the country. This is a self-made decision by members after the assassination of Eido to guarantee their own safety."

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