July 22, 2006

Cyprus braces for more evacuees

By Michele Kambas and Simon Bahceli

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - Tiny Cyprus braced to take in
nearly 10,000 more fugitives from Lebanon on Sunday as the
United Nations urged international donors to send aid swiftly
to the far greater numbers of people left behind.

About 14 crowded vessels were expected to dock at the
Cypriot ports of Larnaca and Limassol over the next 30 hours or
so, part of a days-old mass evacuation involving dozens of
countries from India to Sweden that shows no sign of slowing.

More than 1,000 weary Canadians walked ashore in the sticky
Cypriot summer night. Women tried to pacify screaming infants
as they queued to enter a cramped reception center.

"We are really tired, it has been a very long trip ... Many
more people could not leave, the boats were simply too
crowded," said Cynthia Eid, a student.

Elie Coriaty, 51, an engineering consultant from Montreal,
said Canada has been slower to act than some other countries.

"The Canadians were behind for the first few days, this is
always a problem with Canada, but now it is picking up ... They
are making up for lost time," he said.

Two ships carrying nearly 2,000 Americans were due to dock
in Limassol shortly. Many of them are expected to stay at a
makeshift camp set up in a fairground in the capital Nicosia
awaiting specially chartered planes to fly them home.

The Pentagon said the United States had evacuated 7,731
American citizens from Lebanon as of Saturday. Some of them
escaped through Turkey, which has opened its port of Mersin to
the evacuees.

Three Indian naval vessels are expected to ferry 900 Indian
citizens to Cyprus by Monday.

Boats owned or chartered by Britain, France, Australia and
Greece also plied the strip of water between Lebanon and

"Thank God they brought us here. It felt like forever. We
were living from hour to hour. Everyone was scared," said
Australian holidaymaker Jacqueline Azzi, choking back tears.


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.

"It's already a very major crisis. More than half a million
people are directly affected, either because they are refugees
or internally displaced. They've had to flee their homes, or
they are trapped," Egeland told reporters in Larnaca.

Egeland said he would fly to Beirut aboard a British
helicopter early on Sunday to assess the situation there and to
"urge and beg" donors to produce more food, medicine and water.

Not all those in Larnaca port were fleeing Lebanon.

Hule Zide, 45, a laboratory assistant, was one of dozens of
Lebanese heading back to their country on Sunday aboard a
French-chartered boat. Israeli forces have wrecked Beirut
airport's runways, making the return more difficult.

"I love my country, I have my job, I have my mom and dad,
my family. I have to work and I have to support them. I don't
care if I die. I am not afraid of dying under their bombs," she

Zide, in Paris when the war began, said Lebanon was stuck
between two hostile neighbors, Israel and Syria -- which backs
Hizbollah -- who she said did not want her country to prosper.

Dany Chidiac, 25, an import manager based in Nigeria,
sounded a similar note of defiance.

"No matter what happens, we will go back there. Even if we
end up dying there," he said.

France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has so far
evacuated 4,300 of its nationals and 1,200 other people. It has
sent 20 tonnes of water, food and medicines to Lebanon.

(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey and David Clarke
in Larnaca)