By Rana Jawad
Libya is opening its doors to thousands of tourists for this Wednesday's total solar eclipse and says all nationalities are welcome - except Israelis.
In a country where visas are hard to come by, the large influx of tourists expected for the event is a massive undertaking.
Special glasses are needed to view the eclipse
The eclipse will be visible from much of Asia, Turkey, and Brazil, but Libya will experience the best and longest view.
Individual tourist visas are normally hard to come by but authorities here have assured people that the process will not be bureaucratic for this special event.
Tourists will be able to view the eclipse for up to four minutes and seven seconds.
The tourism ministry says it has issued 6,700 special one-week visas so far.
The largest contingent, 2,000, is from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, France, and other European countries.
These figures exclude other nationalities, like Egyptians and Tunisians, who do not require visas for entry.
But viewing the eclipse from the deserts of Libya will be an expensive matter.
Prices are fixed by the tourism ministry, which issued licences to just five local tourism agencies to handle transport and accommodation.
The best - and most expensive - eclipse viewing, from the desert town of Waw Al Namus, 2,000km south of Tripoli, costs 2,200 euros ($2,650) for four day including flights, says Abdel Rizak Rwasht, chairman of the Winzrik tourist agency.
Libya will have one of the best views of the eclipse
Most flights from Europe will land in nearby desert towns and eclipse enthusiasts will be driven to the designated locations.
According to tourism officials, the special camp sites set up for this event will include full hotel services in four locations: Bir Ghbay, Waw Al Namus, Jalu and Bardi.
Libya is often criticised for its limited tourism infrastructure and organisational capacities.
"We started to work on the infrastructure of this event in 2003," says Abdulrazzag Abulgassim, head of development in the tourism ministry.
"There will be no problems because the eclipse line is in the desert, so the tourists will come to the camps there and we will take care of security, health and sanitary facilities."
This will be the largest tourist event Libya has ever undertaken.
The authorities here are confident they can do the job.
Libyans are hoping the eclipse event will generate a long-term positive impact on their tourism sector, an industry that has been ignored for decades.
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