July 22, 2006

Mass evacuation from Lebanon peaks

By Michele Kambas and Michael Winfrey

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

The European Union dispatched a team to help Cyprus cope
with the huge wave of foreign evacuees, which is stretching the
small island's resources at the height of its tourist season.

"We expect the number to triple in the coming days. There
are more than 60,000 to 70,000 to be evacuated through Cyprus,"
said Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas, inspecting a
French-chartered boat in Larnaca that had brought over 1,200

On the boat people were lying on sheets on the floor and
long queues had formed outside the toilets. Many will have to
stay in Cyprus for days before being sent home and the EU urged
its members to help process evacuees faster.

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."

U.S. officials in Cyprus said they expected to have
evacuated about 4,000 and forwarded home 2,000 Americans on
Saturday alone.

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.


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

Eleni Theocharous, a doctor with the Doctors of the World
aid agency escorting 4,000 tonnes of medical supplies to
Lebanon, said:

"We are going there to help those who don't have the
opportunity to leave the country. For example, Palestinians who
have no documents are stranded and need help."

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 U.N. staff and their families
walked ashore in Cyprus 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.

Chartered ships were expected to bring 500 Australians,
1,100 Canadians and 400 Swiss to Larnaca later on Saturday.

Britain said Saturday would be its last scheduled
evacuation by sea of its passport-holders from Beirut and urged
those interested to gather at a conference hall in the Lebanese
capital during the day.

(Additional reporting by David Clarke and Simon Bahceli,
Thomas Grove in Mersin)