Foreigners stream out of Lebanon

US Navy evacuates remaining American citizens from country.

lebanon evacuation 298 (photo credit: AP)
lebanon evacuation 298
(photo credit: AP)
Canadians, Australians and other foreigners continued to flee the fighting in Lebanon on Sunday as US Navy hovercraft whisked remaining Americans to ships anchored in Beirut's harbor and the first Filipino evacuees were welcomed home by their president. Canadian officials said they expected to move out some 2,000 people on Sunday. US Consul William Gill said most Americans who wanted to leave Lebanon had done so and US evacuation efforts are nearly complete. Gill also urged any people considering leaving to make up their minds quickly as fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hizbullah guerrillas continued for a 12th day. "The US Embassy is urging all Americans who wish to depart Lebanon to do so now. Please do not wait for a phone call," he said in a live video statement to AP Television News. "We are now in the latter stages of transporting Americans who wish to depart Lebanon. We believe most Americans have done so." The US State Department said late Saturday that more than 10,000 of the estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon have fled since July 16. US officials, who were distributing Gill's message to media outlets in hopes of reaching any Americans holed up in their homes, stressed that evacuation was not mandatory. Cyprus and Turkey, meanwhile, continued to take in foreign nationals leaving Lebanon. About 250 Australians reached the Turkish port city of Mersin on a ferry boat early Sunday. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said the government expects to move up to 6,000 citizens out of Lebanon by late Sunday. About 25,000 dual Australian-Lebanese citizens are believed to be living in Lebanon. Ships carrying foreign evacuees also continued to reach the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at a steady clip. An indoor basketball court in the port town of Limassol was used to shelter 90 Lebanese with German citizenship, while in the port town of Larnaca, hundreds of tired Canadians filled the city's athletic center. Canadians comprise Lebanon's largest foreign community, estimated at 50,000, and some 30,000 of them were expected to evacuate. Canadian Ambassador Louis de Lorimier said late Saturday that around 4,400 had left. The Russian Embassy in Beirut said 50 citizens of Russia and other former Soviet countries left Lebanon on Saturday and arrived in Cyprus aboard a Greek warship. Around 1,660 Russians and other former Soviet citizens have already arrived in Moscow. Also Sunday, the first Filipino evacuees arrived home to a rousing welcome from relatives and officials who met their chartered flight at a Manila air force base. "Happy homecoming our beloved workers" read streamers at the Villamor Air Base, where the Philippine Air Force band played festive music to greet the 232 Filipinos - three of them infants -who arrived on a flight from Damascus, Syria. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo boarded the plane to greet the evacuees before they disembarked, and later talked with relatives and workers at the base. "I assure you all, I assure the nation that we are doing everything in our power so that ... (we can ensure) the safety of those who need to remain in Lebanon, and those who wish to leave are being transported out in an orderly way," Arroyo said in a speech. About 30,000 Filipinos have been working in Lebanon, most as domestic helpers. Numerous Filipinos working overseas send home billions of dollars (euros) a year, a vital part of the country's economy. Germany said its embassy in Beirut plans two more bus convoys for Sunday, one from Nabatiyeh to Beirut, the other from Beirut to Damascus. On Monday, a chartered ferry filled with hundreds of Germans, other EU citizens, Canadians and Australians was scheduled to leave for Larnaca, Cyprus, the German Foreign Ministry said.