US exploring options to evacuate citizens from Lebanon

Might ask Israel for temporary cease-fire

The US called Friday for its citizens to consider leaving Lebanon once conditions enable such a departure. The American military has began exploring options for evacuating an estimated 25,000 American citizens if the violence intensifies. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that the US was urging Americans in Lebanon to "assess their personal security situation" and consider leaving the country when that becomes possible. According to McCormack, no US citizen has yet left Lebanon, due to the blockade Israel has imposed on the country. "From the US government perspective, there aren't any ways to get out - reliable ways to get out by air, land or sea," McCormack said. Since Beirut International Airport has been put out of commission by IAF strikes, the Pentagon is working on alternative ways to evacuate American citizens. One possibility is to move the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier, and the rest of its seven-ship strike group from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal to the shores of Lebanon. The Iwo Jim a group is conducting exercises in Jordan and it would take approximately a week to recall the forces back to their ships and move the group to the Lebanon coast. Another possibility is to evacuate Americans by helicopter to Cyprus. The US might also ask Israel for a temporary cease-fire to enable an airlift of the Americans from Lebanon. The Washington-based Arab American Institute said Friday that it had received calls from many Arab Americans who were stranded in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The group called on the State Department to act promptly to evacuate American citizens from the combat zones. The State Department has authorized the departure of all nonessential personnel from the US Embassy in Beirut, but none of the employees or their family members have been able to leave Lebanon.