July 15, 2006

US to evacuate expatriates from Lebanon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The United States and European and Arab
nations moved on Saturday to evacuate their nationals from
Lebanon as Israel bombarded the country.

An Italian convoy of vehicles left Beirut on Saturday while
the United States, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said plans were under way
to ferry their citizens from Lebanon to Syria or Cyprus.

Britain advised its citizens not to travel to Lebanon and
told its expatriates to "stay put for the time being, exercise
caution, keep in touch with the embassy and heed local advice."

A Spanish military transport plane carrying 116 Spaniards
and 10 other people landed at an air force base near Madrid on
Saturday, having taken off from Damascus earlier. The
passengers were driven to Syria from Beirut on Friday.

Some 410 people left Beirut in an Italian convoy of
vehicles on Saturday, Italy's Foreign Ministry said. The group
was mostly made up of Italians and other Europeans, who were
expected to arrive in the Syrian port city of Latakia.

Two C130 Italian military aircraft will then fly the group
back to Rome, with help from a commercial flight departing from
Cyprus, the ministry said.

At least 15,000 cars bearing foreign number plates left
Lebanon on Thursday through the main crossing point with Syria
at Masnaa, Lebanese customs officials said, with hotels emptied
of their guests in a rush of buses and taxis that created
tailbacks on the main Beirut to Damascus road.

The few tourists who have not left are stuck in Lebanon for
the time being, with the airport closed by the Israeli strikes,
the ports blockaded by its navy and the Beirut-Damascus road
that winds through Mount Lebanon, damaged.


The State Department said it was working with the Defense
Department on a plan to transport Americans to Cyprus, from
where it recommended they return to the United States by
commercial airlines.

The State Department estimates that about 25,000 U.S.
citizens, including people with dual citizenship, live in
Lebanon, although summer visits could expand that community.

"There are quite a number of Americans in Lebanon because,
as you know, we have quite a big American-Lebanese community
and many are there for the summer," U.S. Assistant Secretary of
State David Welch told CNN from Tripoli, Libya.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said France had
alerted its navy and readied civilian and military aircraft to
help French citizens leave Lebanon, a former French colony.

Dutch authorities are preparing to provide transport for
their citizens who wish to leave Lebanon, a spokeswoman for the
Dutch Foreign Ministry said.

"We are working on a solution to transport people by boat
to Cyprus," the spokeswoman said. "I expect the first boat to
leave in a few days," she said, adding that the move was a
coordinated effort by the European Union.

The United Arab Emirates said it had dedicated six aircraft
to bringing home its nationals fleeing Lebanon through Syria
while the Saudi embassy in Beirut was organizing transport to
Syria for all Saudis wishing to leave.

Israeli planes have pounded Lebanon since an attack on
Wednesday by Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah, which captured
two Israeli soldiers. Israel's campaign has killed 99 people,
all but three of them civilians, and paralyzed Lebanon's

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry in Paris, Gilbert
Le Gras in Washington)