July 22, 2006

Mass evacuation from bombed Lebanon gains momentum

By Michael Winfrey

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - Ships and aircrafts worked
through the night into Saturday scooping more tired and scared
people from war-battered Lebanon and bringing them to safety in
Cyprus and Turkey.

The Pentagon said 4,400 Americans had escaped from Lebanon
on Friday by sea and air, the largest single day total to date
in the operation to save foreign nationals trapped in the
relentless cross-fire between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas.

The amphibious transport USS Trenton, the biggest ship so
far involved in the evacuation, deposited a further 1,800
people at the Cypriot port of Limassol in the early hours of

Nearly 200 non-essential United Nations staff and their
families walked ashore from a boat chartered by the world body.

British and Australian servicemen also stepped up efforts
to rescue their nationals as Israel announced plans to allow
aid agencies to deliver food and medicine to thousands of
displaced people in Lebanon.

"In the next couple of days we are really going to start
moving a lot of people through here," said Australia's High
Commissioner in Cyprus, Garth Hunt, at the port of Larnaca.

"As far as we concerned, nobody should have to fend for
themselves," he said after welcoming ashore nearly 350
Australians transported by a Maltese catamaran contracted by
the Canberra government.

The British government, in an announcement carried by the
BBC, said Saturday would be the last scheduled British maritime
evacuation of U.K. passport-holders from Beirut.

It urged those wanting to leave to gather at a conference
hall in the Lebanese capital between 8 am and 4 pm local time.


Evacuees coming ashore described scenes of mayhem back in
Lebanon, where many had been holidaying or visiting family when
the Israeli rockets began falling 11 days ago.

"We were worried we would be stuck there for a long time.
There were no ports, no airports working, there was no way out
of Lebanon," said Ramon Jerbat from Victoria, Australia.

Tiny Cyprus is struggling to deal with the crisis and has
appealed for more help from its European Union partners.

Help has also come from Cyprus's arch rival Turkey, which
threw open its Mediterranean port of Mersin to take in
Canadian, American and Swedish evacuees.

Locked in a decades-old diplomatic row, Turkey and the
internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus
have no diplomatic relations.

"We are working at a capacity of about 1,000 people a day,"
Canadian ambassador to Ankara Yves Brodeur told Reuters.

Evacuees plucked from Lebanon by U.S. naval vessels and
helicopters praised their rescuers' efficiency and kindness.

"I have to say everyone in the navy was incredible. They
gave so much more than we expected. They carried our luggage,
they gave us food, they did everything for us," said Rosana
Ayoub, 22, a medical student from California.

The Pentagon said eight of nine U.S. ships slated to take
part in the evacuation were now on the scene.

About 1,000 Americans were taken to a massive "camp-bed
city" set up on a fairground in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.
Many were angry at not being told how long they would stay.

"They told me we might be able to leave tomorrow, or
perhaps in a week," said Nejat Salah, a 37-year-old
photographer from Los Angeles who held her daughter by the

"If it's going to be like this here in Cyprus, perhaps I
should start looking for a way to go back to Lebanon."

(Additional reporting by David Clark, Michele Kambas and
Simon Bahceli in Cyprus, and bureaux in Turkey)