July 22, 2006

Evacuation from Lebanon speeds up

By Michele Kambas

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - Ships and aircraft on Saturday
whisked more exhausted people fleeing the fighting in Lebanon
to safety in Cyprus in a mass international effort that has so
far evacuated more than 25,000 people.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas, inspecting a
French-chartered boat in Larnaca port that had just brought in
1,200 people, said he expected many more evacuees to arrive on
the tiny holiday island, straining its limited resources.

"We expect the number to triple in the coming days. There
are more than 60,000 to 70,000 to be evacuated through Cyprus,"
he said, as he toured the Ierapetra with Catherine Colonna,
France's minister for European affairs.

Asked about Cyprus's appeal for help from its European
Union partners in moving evacuees home, she said: "I hope the
answer is swift and positive ... This is an enormous burden on

Conditions on the boat were cramped, with people lying on
sheets on the floor. Long queues had formed outside the

The amphibious transport USS Trenton, the biggest ship so
far involved in the evacuation, docked earlier on Saturday at
the Cypriot port of Limassol with some 1,800 people. The USS
Nashville arrived later with another 1,000.

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

"I was at my club playing tennis and suddenly heard
shelling over my head," said Eddy Munzer, 66, a retired lawyer
from Florida. "The situation is so uncertain, I don't see any
bright future in the short term.

U.S. officials said they expected to have evacuated about
4,000 Americans on Saturday and forwarded about 2,000 home,
leaving many at a makeshift reception center in Nicosia.

"It's very busy but it's under control," one official said.


Officials said the French humanitarian agency Medecins Sans
Frontieres planned to send 60 tonnes of emergency aid through
Cyprus to Lebanon.

France sent 20 tonnes of water, along with food and
medicines, on Friday to Beirut and planned to dispatch a water
purifying plant on Saturday.

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

British and Australian service personnel also stepped up
efforts to rescue their nationals.

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

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

Another 500 Australians were expected to arrive at Larnaca
on a chartered ship in the evening.

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.

Turkey started to share Cyprus's burden and hundreds of
evacuees, mostly Canadian and some Swedish citizens, have also
been arriving in the port of Mersin to the north of Cyprus,
where they were welcomed with carnations.

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

(Additional reporting by David Clarke and Michael Winfrey
in Larnaca, Thomas Grove in Mersin)