US to clear citizens from Lebanon

In absence of functional airport, options include use of helicopter carrier.

us carrier 88 (photo credit: )
us carrier 88
(photo credit: )
The United States is working on a plan to evacuate American citizens from Lebanon to the neighboring island of Cyprus, the U.S. Embassy said Saturday. "We are looking at how we might transport Americans to Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, Americans can then board commercial aircraft for onward travel," an embassy statement said. One possibility is to evacuate the Americans by helicopters to Cyprus. The US had already been calling its citizens to consider leaving Lebanon once the conditions enable such a departure. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that the US is urging its citizens in Lebanon to "assess their personal security situation," and consider leaving the country when that becomes possible. According to McCormack, no American citizen has yet to leave Lebanon due to the closure Israel 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 added. Since the Beirut international airport has been taken out of commission by Israeli air strikes, the Pentagon is working on alternative plans to evacuate the American citizens from Lebanon. One possibility that was considered was to move the helicopter carrier USS Iwo Jima and its seven ship group from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal to the shores of Lebanon. The Iwo Jima group is conducting exercises in Jordan and it will take approximately a week to gather the forces back to the ships and move the group to the shores of Lebanon. In case there is a need for emergency evacuation the US may also ask Israel for a temporary cease fire in order to enable an air lift of the Americans from Lebanon. The Arab American Institute (AAI) said Friday that it has received calls from many Arab Americans who are stranded both in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip. The group called on the State Department to act promptly to evacuate American citizens from the fighting zones. The State Department authorized the departure of all unessential personnel and family members from the US embassy in Beirut, but up to now no American citizen was able to leave. Meanwhile, France was putting in place a special ferry to evacuate its citizens in Lebanon who wish to leave starting on Sunday, the foreign minister said. The ferry will transport to Cyprus any of the thousands of French who want out of Lebanon following recent IDF attacks on Hizbullah targets in response to the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers on Wednesday. Special Air France flights will bring evacuees to Paris from Cyprus, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Saturday.