July 21, 2006
Helicopters pluck Americans from Beirut
By David Clarke
BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S. helicopters plucked Americans from
Beirut on Friday and hundreds of Canadians arrived on the
shores of Turkey in a huge evacuation of foreign nationals
fleeing Israeli bombing in Lebanon.
Turkey volunteered to become a second transit point for the
growing tide of distressed evacuees after Cyprus warned it
could no longer bear the strain.
U.S. troops watched from rooftops around the U.S. embassy
in the Lebanese capital as evacuees fleeing Israel's
bombardment boarded helicopters taking them to U.S. warships
At a nearby beach, people with suitcases on top of their
heads and some cradling babies in their arms queued for
processing before climbing aboard a landing craft to take them
to waiting ships.
"I felt like I was held hostage, not in a room but in a
country," said Touf Hasoun, 45, from Pittsburg, looking
relieved to be on board the USS Trenton headed for Cyprus. "It
drove me crazy not to be able to leave by air, sea or land."
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 mass of
evacuees arriving at the peak of its tourist season and the
U.S. embassy in Ankara said Turkey had agreed to help.
A Canadian ship with 1,000 evacuees has already docked in
Turkey, and more than 100 Swedish nationals escaping the
violence in Lebanon disembarked at the southern port of Mersin.
Workers were adding lights at Mersin's docks and a sports
complex in the nearby city of Adana was turned into a camp,
from where evacuees would be flown out.
"We are working at a capacity of about 1,000 people a day,"
Canadian ambassador to Ankara Yves Brodeur told Reuters.
On Thursday, about 1,000 Americans disembarked in the
Cypriot 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 civilised, but they are barbaric. I don't want my
kid to grow up like that," said Habib Kheil, a professor of
mathematics from Michigan.
U.S. ambassador to Nicosia Ronald Schlicher said 5,000
Anericans had been brought out since July 15 and about 5,700
more were expected to arrive in Cyprus this weekend.
Cyprus, which has a population of just under a million,
said it was struggling to deal with the crisis and could be
forced to accept only EU nationals unless the EU helped.
"The European Union cannot leave a member state unaided in
handling this truly serious humanitarian emergency," government
spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis 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 a huge strain on resources.
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 to Larnaca. Many seemed shaken by their ordeal.
"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.