July 23, 2006

Lebanon evacuees pour into Cyprus

By Michele Kambas and Michael Winfrey

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - Thousands of people fleeing
Israeli bombing in Lebanon kept pouring into Cyprus on Sunday
as the United Nations appealed for urgent international aid for
the far greater numbers of people left behind.

Hundreds of foreigners were also whisked to the Turkish
port of Mersin, as Turkey stepped in to share the burden with
the small island struggling to cope with the huge wave of
evacuees after 12 days of Israeli bombings.

"It's the biggest Australian evacuation since the Second
World War," Australian ambassador to Turkey Jean Dunn told
Reuters. "There are 20,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon and
we expect over this week to have 6,000 or more evacuated. We
can't tell how it's going to play out over the next month."

Illyas Rizkallah, 20, a Lebanese-Australian student said
upon arriving in Turkey: "The boat we were on was really quick,
just up and down the whole way. Everyone was vomiting
throughout the whole trip. Everyone was delirious and tired,
everyone wants to go home.

"The first couple of days around where we were there was
non-stop shelling, bombing. I haven't slept for the last nine
days. I left my family behind there - my aunt and family. I
didn't want to," he said.

Over 3,000, mostly Canadian, Australian and U.S. evacuees
have arrived at Mersin, welcomed by Red Crescent workers.

About 14 vessels were expected to dock at the Cypriot ports
of Larnaca and Limassol on Sunday and Monday, a mass evacuation
already involving more than 25,000 people from dozens of
countries that shows no signs of slowing.

Cyprus has said the number may rise to 70,000, a big strain
for the Mediterranean island at the height of its tourist
season, and the European Union has pledged to help its member

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 student Cynthia Eid.

Two ships carrying nearly 2,000 Americans docked in
Limassol, adding to the nearly 8,000 the Pentagon said had
already been evacuated from Lebanon via Cyprus and Turkey.

Many Americans were still stuck at a makeshift camp in a
fairground in the Cypriot capital Nicosia awaiting chartered
planes to fly them home.


By contrast, an estimated 5,000 British evacuees passing
through the British air force base at Akrotiri in southern
Cyprus were swiftly processed and flown home.

"The state of the people coming through has got worse with
time. One man came through without shoes. We gave another man a
toothbrush and he just burst into tears," said Olivia Draper,
one of several British volunteers helping out at the base.

British officials said the final 300 British evacuees would
leave for Britain on a charter flight on Sunday, wrapping up
its official maritime evacuation.

"I hope they can do something for the people who are still
there (in Lebanon) to get them out. I just cannot believe they
would just leave them there," said volunteer Ann MacDougall, a
pensioner from Wiltshire who lives in Cyprus.

Evacuees at the base seemed relieved to be there.

"I am heading to England to find a new home," said Fouad
Hijazi, 63, a retired merchant and British passport holder.

Not every one was fleeing Lebanon. Hule Zide, 45, was one
of dozens of Lebanese heading back to their country on Sunday
aboard a French-chartered boat.

"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," said
Zide, who had been on holiday in Paris when the war started. "I
am not afraid of dying under their bombs."

As the ship came close to Beirut, a group of Lebanese held
hands in a circle of prayer, lead by father Magdi El-Alawi.

"I was praying for God to help Lebanon," the Catholic
priest said.

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