July 22, 2006

Exodus from Lebanon to Cyprus peaks

By Michael Winfrey and Simon Bahceli

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.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said at least
$100 million was urgently needed to help avert a humanitarian
disaster in Lebanon, and he urged Israel and its Hizbollah foes
to guarantee safe passage to the aid convoys.

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 (of evacuees) to triple in the coming
days. There are more than 60,000 to 70,000 to be evacuated
through Cyprus," Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas said,
inspecting a boat that had brought in more than 1,200 people.

Britain gave its citizens until Saturday evening to gather
in Beirut for the last scheduled evacuation by sea. A ship with
British evacuees was expected in Cyprus early on Sunday.

About 5,700 people were coming in on seven U.S. ships on
Saturday and the early hours of Sunday and only 1,600 of those
would be flown out, officials said. About 2,300 were staying at
a makeshift camp set up in fairgrounds in the capital Nicosia.

"There are still ships coming," said a State Department
media official, who declined to be named. "It may not be at the
same rate as a few days ago, but we are still receiving a lot
of passengers."

Chartered ships also were expected to bring 500
Australians, 1,100 Canadians and 400 Swiss to Larnaca late on

Turkey has also been receiving hundreds of evacuees, mostly
Canadian and some Swedish citizens, at its Mediterranean port
of Mersin to the north of Cyprus.


Evacuees described scenes of mayhem in Lebanon, where many
had been holidaying or visiting family when Israel started
bombing 11 days ago.

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

Australian-born accountant Joseph Saade, who moved to
Beirut 20 years ago, said: "I will not return. This is the end.
I am going to Australia, my home."

To help those left behind in Lebanon, the U.N.'s Egeland
said it was vital to repair bombed runways at Beirut's Hariri
airport and to establish a staging area in Cyprus.

"At the moment, we are not able to get relief into the
country in any quantities and more importantly, we're not able
to distribute it beyond certain points which we can reach at
the moment," he told reporters in Larnaca.

Egeland said he would fly from Cyprus to Beirut aboard a
British helicopter early on Sunday to assess the situation
there and to "urge and beg" international donors to stomp up
food, medicine, water and other aid.

As people escaped the violence, aid poured in. The EU
pledged to send medicine, shelter material and other supplies.
France sent 20 tonnes of water, food and medicines, and was
dispatching a water purifying plant on Saturday.

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

(Additional reporting by David Clarke and Michele Kambas in
Cyprus, Thomas Grove in Mersin)