July 21, 2006

Thousands more flee Lebanon

By David Clarke

BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S. helicopters plucked frightened
Americans from Beirut on Friday, adding to the swelling tide of
foreign evacuees reaching Cyprus, which may soon share the
burden with another country.

Armed guards manned rooftops around the U.S. embassy as
evacuees fleeing Israel's bombardment of Lebanon filed into
helicopters taking them to American warships offshore.

At a nearby beach, people with suitcases on top of their
heads and babies in their arms queued for processing before
boarding a landing craft to take them to the waiting ships.

Many were worried about those left behind.

"My parents are staying. They think it will last three to
six weeks but I think it might get worse when we leave," said
George Abi-Habib, 25. "My mom has pneumonia so it's kind of
hard to leave them."

Brigadier General Carl Jensen, in charge of the operation
at the beach, said: "Already we have moved over 4,000
Americans. Today in total, we hope to move at least 4,000."

Cyprus warned it may not be able to handle the increasing
numbers of evacuees arriving at the peak of its tourist season
and Jensen said another country in the region may offer help.

"It's another country in the area. We may know as early as
today or tomorrow," he said but did not elaborate. U.S. sources
said the most likely candidate was Turkey.

On Thursday, about 1,000 Americans, visibly relieved to
have escaped the relentless aerial bombing, disembarked in the
port of Larnaca from USS Nashville after being rescued by U.S.
Marines. Another 1,000 arrived at the port of Limassol on a
cruise liner chartered by the U.S. government.

"They (the Israelis) are targeting civilians. They call
themselves civilized, but they are barbaric. I don't want my
kid to grow up like that," said Habib Kheil, a professor of
mathematics from Michigan.

"We arrived two days before (the bombardment) started. The
children were so scared, they huddled all together and stayed
in the lowest part of the house," he said, breaking into sobs
and hugging his eight-year-old son Abdul.


Cypriot Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas said his
country, with a population of just under a million, was
struggling to deal with the crisis at the peak of its tourist
season and asked Nicosia's European Union partners for help.

"Cyprus is the only country in the EU which is offering its
facilities to this extent. Because of our size we don't have
the ability to respond to the numbers of citizens of third
countries," he told state radio.

The pressure could force Cyprus to limit assistance to EU
citizens, he said. Cyprus was bracing for 20,000 Canadians
among many others. Officials say they expect an average of
4,000 people arriving each day, putting great strain on

Ships from Italy, Britain, Greece and India also docked in
Cyprus overnight, carrying people of diverse nationalities.

A Cypriot vessel chartered by the United Nations brought
1,000 passengers at Larnaca. Many seemed shaken by their

"There was shelling throughout Beirut during the time we
were moored there. It was obviously distressing to those coming
out," said U.N. security officer Simon Butt.

Some passengers described scenes of chaos in Beirut as they
tried to board the waiting boats.

"It was pure chaos. They should have let women with
children first, or some sort of arrangement, but there was a
stampede," said Rolla Weed, 31, from Orange County, California.

(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey, Michele Kambasn
and Simon Bahceli in Cyprus)