Exodus of foreigners from Lebanon gathers more pace
20 July 2006, BEIRUT - As Lebanon reeled under the ninth day of Israeli attacks, the exodus of thousands of foreign nationals from the country gathered pace Thursday as an international flotilla of warships converged on Beirut to evacuate refugees. According to port officials, some 57,000 had already left the country. US Marines were busy transferring US citizens to Dbayeh port to the east of the capital where a boat chartered by the US was waiting. Some 3,000 US nationals were expected to be evacuated by
20 July 2006
BEIRUT - As Lebanon reeled under the ninth day of Israeli attacks, the exodus of thousands of foreign nationals from the country gathered pace Thursday as an international flotilla of warships converged on Beirut to evacuate refugees.
According to port officials, some 57,000 had already left the country.
US Marines were busy transferring US citizens to Dbayeh port to the east of the capital where a boat chartered by the US was waiting. Some 3,000 US nationals were expected to be evacuated by the US Marines Thursday.
US embassy officials are expecting to evacuate a further 6,000 US citizens between Thursday and Friday.
Some Americans who had not been allowed into the port shouted in frustration.
"Where are the embassy officials? We have to enter the port, we're all stuck here," said Lebanese-US citizen Marelene Awad, who lives in Washington and was on vacation.
Nine hundred Americans and 150 other nationals were put on a cruise ship from Beirut to Cyprus on Wednesday, in the first US evacuation. The ship docked early Thursday, bringing to more than 1,600 the number of US citizens evacuated from Lebanon.
More than 6,500 foreign nationals fleeing Israeli air strikes were expected to find safe haven on Cyprus within the 24 hours to Friday morning.
Three ships have docked in the port of Larnaca since Wednesday, among them a United Nations ship carrying an unknown number of passengers and the US-chartered cruise ship.
Before the Israeli strikes, the US had an estimated 25,000 nationals in Lebanon. The vast majority were dual US-Lebanese citizens.
"We cannot take it any more ... The bombing is terrible and the Israelis are hitting everything. I have to leave," Nawal Jirjis, a Lebanese-American with two children, said.
For most of people waiting to be evacuated under a fierce summer sun with no shelter, the scene was frustrating.
"The US officials were late in their evacuations. We saw horrors in the past few days," said one US citizen, who had been stuck in southern Lebanon and only managed to get out Wednesday.
"A shelter next to my parents' house in Tyre was bombed and the whole family was buried under the rubble. How can our country, the US, turn a blind eye to such massacres," Saud Khalil, another Lebanese-American, said.
According to UN officials, embassies had contacted Israel to ease the siege on southern Lebanon to enable people from Germany, Canada, the US and Norway to be evacuated from the south of the country.
"We learned that there are people with German and Canadian passports stuck in villages like Blida and Rmeish. We are doing all we can to secure their safety," Red Cross officials told DPA.
Hundreds more foreigners were fleeing in buses and cars overland to the Syrian capital of Damascus, braving Israeli bombings of the road leading to the border with Syria.
"I had to pay the taxi driver from Beirut to Syria $700 to transfer my family to Syria," Ahmed Itani said.
Itani said he had rented a house in Syria and would leave his family there until the situation calmed down.
"I am only scared for my two children. They are scared by the sounds of the large bombs the Israelis are [dropping] on us," Itani said.
At the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Masnaa area, one official told dpa by phone that some 15,000 people had left for Syria in the past few days.
In Beirut, residents feared the exodus of foreigners would only make the situation worse. "Food supplies are scarce and I am afraid that after the foreigners are evacuated, Israel will intensify its attacks on Lebanon," Beirut resident Hala Douei said.
Meanwhile in southern Lebanon, 500 French citizens were being evacuated from the city of Tyre that is only 20 kilometres from the Israeli border and was severely hit by Israeli shelling.
UN sources told dpa a Cypriot vessel docked near the port city of Tyre after getting permission from the Israelis to evacuate the French nationals who were stuck in southern Lebanon.
Some 214 Polish citizens had already been evacuated from Lebanon, Poland's Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said. The first evacuation transport arrived in Warsaw late Tuesday evening.
Polish diplomats in Lebanon believe there may be up to 30 more Poles awaiting evacuation. Poland is expected to keep its diplomatic mission in Beirut open.
An Airbus carrying 361 German evacuees from Lebanon landed in Dusseldorf on Thursday.
The evacuees, nearly half of them children, were flown home from the Syrian capital of Damascus where they had travelled in a convoy of buses from Beirut.
Another Airbus with 320 on board arrived in Dusseldorf on Tuesday.
Three German Air Force planes left Thursday for Syria and the Turkish city of Adana to fly home more evacuees.
More than 2,000 Germans were in Lebanon when Israel launched its military offensive July 12.
Sweden was preparing to evacuate several hundred Swedish nationals from Lebanon by ferry to Cyprus, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said.
The transport was expected to be one of the last major transports of Swedish nationals, Fredrik Jorgensen, director at the ministry, told Swedish television news.
Due to the crisis in Lebanon, Sweden also announced that it would extend temporary visas for Lebanese citizens currently visiting the Nordic country.
Some 70 Lebanese nationals were estimated to be in Sweden, according to the Swedish Migration Board.
A ferry with some 1,200 Swedish nationals arrived late Wednesday in Cyprus after being diverted from Larnaca to Limmasol.
The strain of the trip proved too much for an elderly woman - in her 80s - who collapsed and later died in hospital, foreign ministry officials told Swedish media outlets.
Some 5,000 Swedish nationals - the majority - were believed to have been evacuated from Lebanon, but a few hundred remained in southern Lebanon where conditions were grave.
Diplomatic efforts were underway to secure an evacuation also from southern Lebanon.
Some 280 Swedish nationals arrived in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Mersin Thursday morning after fleeing Beirut by ferry boat, the private NTV television station reported.
After disembarking, the evacuees were put on buses to be transported to an airport in the nearby city of Adana for flights to Stockholm.
Thursday's arrivals bring to 468 the number of Swedish nationals who have arrived in Mersin from Lebanon in the past two days.
Australian and Canadian nationals fleeing Lebanon are expected to arrive in Mersin by ferry boat in the next few days.
Turkey is to send a ferry boat to Beirut collect its nationals on Monday.
Danish authorities estimated that 90 per cent of its citizens had been evacuated from Lebanon. "We have managed to evacuate more than 5,000 Danes," foreign ministry official Jan Top Christensen told Danish news agency Ritzau.
Some 500 Danish nationals were expected later Thursday.
Norway said some 50 Norwegian nationals were evacuated late Wednesday from southern Lebanon to Beirut in a joint operation with other Nordic countries.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said he was "relieved" that so many were evacuated considering the security situation.
A first flight carrying humanitarian aid for Lebanon left Paris early Thursday for Cyprus, from where the material would be transported to Beirut by ship.
The Boeing 747, belonging to Air France, carried generators for hospitals, equipment to produce potable water, medicines and food rations as well as emergency medical personnel and Red Cross staff members.
The delivery of humanitarian aid for the strife-torn country was announced by President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday.
The French government has so far evacuated some 2,000 French citizens and 500 other Europeans, Americans and other nationals from Lebanon, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.
Some 8,000 French citizens had contacted diplomatic personnel in Beirut to be evacuated, Mattei said.
The first 108 Bulgarians were airlifted from Damascus Thursday on a special Bulgaria Air flight to Varna on the Black Sea after they had been transported from Lebanon by bus the previous day, the Bulgarian Transport Ministry said in Sofia.
A further 107 Bulgarians are to be flown home Friday evening, the ministry said.
A further 30 Irish citizens were evacuated from Lebanon Thursday morning, following the arrival Wednesday morning in Dublin of an initial group of 80 who had been taken by bus to Damascus then flown home via Dubai.
Subject: German news