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Air France to flyers: Got gas money?

PARIS -- An emergency layover in Syria's capital was bad enough. Then passengers on Air France Flight 562 were asked to open their wallets to check if they had enough cash to pay for more fuel.

The plane, heading from Paris to Lebanon's capital, diverted amid tensions near the Beirut airport on Wednesday. Low on fuel, it instead landed in Damascus, the capital of neighboring Syria, where a civil war is raging.

An Air France spokesman explained Friday that the crew inquired about passenger cash only as a "precautionary measure" because of the "very unusual circumstances." Sanctions against Syria complicated payment for extra fuel.

He said Air France found a way to pay for the fill-up without tapping customer pockets. He wouldn't say how the airline paid, or how much.

One woman aboard said the passengers had rounded up 17,000 euros.

"The pilot asked the passengers in first class to get their cash together. Everyone started to collect money, and they managed to collect 17,000, but the pilot in the end didn't take anything. They resolved the problems with the Damascus airport," said a passenger speaking on France-Info radio identified as May Bsat.

The Boeing 777, carrying 185 people, took off for an overnight layover in Cyprus then landed safely in Beirut on Thursday.

Mobs supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad blocked the main airport highway in Beirut on Wednesday, before Lebanese military units moved in.

The layover was awkward for Air France, the flagship carrier for a country whose government toes a hard line against Assad -- and warns all its citizens to avoid or leave Syrian soil.

Air France operated regular flights to Damascus until suspending them amid violence earlier this year.

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