Foreigners scramble to leave Lebanon

Tens of thousands of foreigners fled fighting in Lebanon Thursday as a massive evacuation operation by air, sea and road swung into top gear.

Lebanon evacuation 88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon evacuation 88
(photo credit: AP)
Tens of thousands of foreigners fled fighting in Lebanon and a cruise ship carrying about 1,000 Americans arrived in nearby Cyprus Thursday as a massive evacuation operation by air, sea and road swung into top gear. The Canadian prime minister arrived in Cyprus from Paris to pick up evacuees on his jet. Denmark evacuated more than 4,000 of its citizens Wednesday and a cruise liner evacuated more than 1,000 Americans from Beirut to nearby Larnaca, Cyprus. Germany evacuated 2,300 of it's citizens by bus to Syria where they would be flown out on charter flights, bringing the total evacuated so far to 3,000. With fighting between IDF troops and Hizbullah guerrillas in southern Lebanon escalating, French President Jacques Chirac urged Israel to allow for "humanitarian corridors" in Lebanon to keep people safe from airstrikes as they flee the country. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived at Larnaca airport just after midnight locally in his military Airbus A310 to pick up 120 evacuees from Lebanon and fly them home. Ambra Dickie, a spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Ministry, confirmed that the first ship with 261 Canadians on board had left Beirut and was headed for Cyprus, due to arrive in the early hours on Thursday. "There's been a slight delay due to security issues," Dickie said from Ottawa. "Obviously it's a challenge being faced by many nations. We still have seven ships and those additional ships will resume their operations in the coming hours. "We're not going to put any Canadians at risk by forcing any ships through while there were still security issues," she said. She said the 1,800 other Canadians who were told to be at the port in Beirut for departure Wednesday would not lose their places and have been taken to an air-conditioned facility in Beirut where they were being accommodated until morning. The luxury cruise liner Orient Queen arrived just after midnight with about 1,000 Americans aboard, completing the first trip in a massive operation to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens from wartorn Lebanon. The eight-deck cruise liner tied up after sailing out of Beirut's port more than nine hours before, on Wednesday afternoon, in the first mass U.S. exodus from Lebanon since Israeli airstrikes started more than a week ago. Earlier in Beirut as the ship sailed, US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said that "we expect this to go on for the next week until every American who has asked us for help to leave, gets to leave." US Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, who is coordinating the US evacuation, said that more than 6,000 Americans will have been taken out of Lebanon by the weekend. The commander of Task Force 59 also said that 1,100 Americans were being evacuated from Lebanon on Wednesday, bringing the total so far to 1,500. He did not know how many of the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon would be leaving, but officials have in the past said about 8,000 had requested to go. A few minutes before the departure of the Orient Queen, a Greek ship, Anek's lines' Kriti II, left for Cyprus with about 500 Greeks, Scandinavians, French and some British nationals, the company said. A Greek Navy landing ship, the Ikaria, was also to later head for Larnaca, Greece's government said. Croatia also evacuated 58 people through Syria. Four Indian navy ships also reached Lebanese waters to begin the evacuation of about 1,000 of their citizens in the next few days, Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in New Delhi. "Nepal and Sri Lanka have also requested for their citizens to be put on the ships. Space permitting, that will be done," he said. The Danish Foreign Ministry added that 17 buses with 420 Danes but also Swedes, Norwegians and French citizens were heading north to Beirut from Saida. Another 300 to 400 Danes were expected to leave Beirut on a Greek ship chartered by the Danish government with other EU countries. That ship will be heading for the Larnaca. Russia said it sent two planes to Syria on Wednesday. Buses already have taken 270 Russians to Syria for flights to Moscow, and 1,000 others, among them citizens of other ex-Soviet republics, will be taken by bus Wednesday. A Swedish government-chartered ferry arrived in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Mersin early Wednesday, carrying 188 Swedes evacuated from Lebanon, news reports said. The Turkish ferry, the Su Jet, returned immediately to Beirut to carry a second group of Swedes waiting to be evacuated, a news report said. A British destroyer, HMS Gloucester, arrived in Cyprus at dawn with 175 people aboard, including 156 Britons. Others included Australians and Canadians. Another destroyer, the HMS York, was expected in Cyprus' port of Limassol, with about another 200 people. About 180 Belgians also gathered in downtown Beirut and boarded buses arranged by the embassy that headed to Aleppo, Syria, where a Belgian aircraft was to take them out. Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand scrambled to locate buses and ships capable of carrying more than 30,000 people to safety. Australia was facing mounting criticism that it was not doing enough to help. The Department of Foreign Affairs said it believes it has firm bookings to evacuate 2,400 Australians by Sunday, and there were hopes that others might leave on British, U.S., Canadian and U.N. ships. The Philippines said its efforts to find safe passage for around 30,000 Filipinos living in Lebanon were hampered by a lack of funds. Other evacuation developments:
  • About 400 Italians will be evacuated on Thursday from Beirut's port, and taken to Larnaca. They include all the Italians who at this point have requested evacuation. Once in Larnaca, the Italians will take two commercial flights.
  • The Czech foreign ministry said 7 Czechs and 2 Slovaks are scheduled to leave Beirut for Cyprus on a Greek military ship. Early on Tuesday, 68 Czechs, 22 Slovaks and 3 Americans arrived in Prague on a Czech plane sent for them to Syria.
  • Romania evacuated 476 people to Syria by chartered buses.
  • The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that 105 Bulgarians, mostly women and children, boarded buses Wednesday heading to the Syrian town of Aleppo.