Lebanon Baalbek festival moves near Beirut

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Lebanon’s renowned Baalbek International Festival, normally held in the town’s spectacular Roman ruins, will move to a venue near Beirut amid security fears linked to the Syrian conflict, organizers said on Tuesday.

“Despite the situation and after consultation with the authorities we have decided to hold the festival but change the location,” organizers said in a statement.

“It will be held instead at the Magnanerie of Jdeideh, an old building that housed a silk factory in the 19th century.”

“We chose this location because it is on the outskirts of Beirut and is accessible to all,” the statement added.

Organizers announced last month that the festival would be moved from Baalbek over security fears as the conflict in Syria spills over increasingly into neighboring Lebanon.

They announced that American soprano Renee Fleming, who had been due to headline the festival, had cancelled her participation in the event, one of the Arab world’s leading cultural gatherings.

Rockets fired from inside Syria have hit border areas near the Baalbek ruins, which lie in a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah movement.

Hezbollah is a key ally of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army against rebels seeking to overthrow him.

Hezbollah’s intervention has raised tensions in Lebanon, where many Sunnis back the Sunni-led uprising against Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Baalbek festival was cancelled during Hezbollah’s devastating war with Israel in 2006, but this is thought to be the first time it has switched venue.

The Baalbek ruins, which include the striking Temple of Jupiter and well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the acts booked for this year are British singer Marianne Faithfull and Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias.

Launched in 1956 during what is often thought of as Lebanon’s Golden Age, the Baalbek festival was halted at the start of the 1975-1990 civil war and did not resume until 1997.

It has hosted figures including dancer Rudolph Nureyev, British singer Sting and American jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.

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