July 23, 2006

More evacuees reach Cyprus

By Michael Winfrey and Michele Kambas

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - More than 1,000 Canadians
walked ashore to safety in Cyprus on Monday, part of a mass
evacuation from fighting in Lebanon that now exceeds 30,000

About 15 ships were expected at Cypriot ports overnight in
what may be the peak of the organized evacuation effort, as
Britain and the United States said they were starting to wind
down their rescue operations.

But weary evacuees arriving in Larnaca said there were
still many more people in Lebanon trying to get out. Cyprus has
said up to 40,000 more people could pass through the tiny
holiday island, whose facilities have been sorely tested by the

"There are thousands of people still waiting over there (to
escape). It is very crowded," said Hussein Kalas, 16, a
Canadian Lebanese from Ottawa.

His sister, Ghinwa, 19, described the horror of living in
Beirut during the Israeli bombardment, now into its 13th day.

"They are killing children, they are raining bombs on our
houses. They're the terrorists, not us. We have not slept in 12
days. Every night the planes went up and started bombing. It is
not right, what they are doing," she said.

Israel launched its bombardment of Lebanon on July 12 after
Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed
eight others. The fighting has killed 369 people in Lebanon,
the vast majority civilians, and 37 Israelis.

Evacuees expressed their relief at escaping from Lebanon.

"We are happy to be going back to Canada. We really
appreciate what the Canadian government has done for us (in
chartering boats to get us out)," said Johnny Aboudhi of
Montreal, who was accompanied by his wife and two children.


The Pentagon said the number of Americans evacuated from
Lebanon had risen to more than 10,000. A further 1,800 were due
to arrive in Limassol on Monday morning aboard USS Nashville.

"Our message to American citizens is if you want to get
out, get out now," said one U.S. official, who requested
anonymity. "We're definitely, definitely on the downward slope

Turkey has stepped in to share Cyprus's burden and over
3,000 mostly Canadian, Australian and U.S. evacuees have
arrived at its southern port of Mersin, greeted by Red Crescent

"It's the biggest Australian evacuation since the Second
World War," Australian ambassador to Turkey Jean Dunn told
Reuters, saying her country expected to take 6,000 or more of
its 20,000 citizens out of Lebanon this week.

Visiting evacuees in Larnaca on Sunday, France's Defense
Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said: "Until today, we have
responded to 5,000 (evacuation) requests and we have another
9,000 pending."

She said France would leave its operations in Cyprus in
place to help pass humanitarian aid to Lebanon. U.N. officials
have said they will establish an aid staging point in Cyprus.

With airports congested, many Americans were still stuck at
a makeshift camp in a fairground in the Cypriot capital Nicosia
awaiting charter flights 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 and Britain said
it was wrapping up its maritime evacuation on Sunday.

Not everyone was fleeing Lebanon. Hulie 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 mum 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."

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