July 24, 2006

More foreigners leave Lebanon, operations wind down

By Michael Winfrey and Michele Kambas

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) - A mass evacuation of foreign
nationals fleeing Israeli bombing of Lebanon began winding down
on Monday as the latest of around 30,000 people to leave
reached Cyprus and Turkey.

Britain and the United States said they were scaling back
their evacuations after 15 ships brought more exhausted
evacuees to the Mediterranean island in one of its busiest
nights since Israel air strikes on Lebanon.

Several hundred Australians and Canadians also arrived at
the Turkish port of Mersin, after Turkey stepped in to share
the burden with Cyprus, which is struggling to cope with the
influx in the middle of its tourist season.

"When they bombed the airport we heard it as though it was
next door and we saw the clouds come up. We have two babies, so
it was impossible to stay there," said middle-aged Canadian
Robert Daudelin from Montreal, after arriving at Mersin.

"Leaving Beirut was much tougher because families including
ours were being split and people were crying, people weren't
sure if it was the right move to leave," Daudelin said.

U.S. officials said over 12,000 Americans had now left
Lebanon and another 1,000 were expected to leave Monday, as
numbers of those lining up to leave dwindled.

"The U.S. embassy believes that most American citizens who
wished to depart Lebanon with U.S. government assistance have
already departed," the embassy in Beirut said in a statement.

Authorities in Cyprus, which has received most evacuees,
have warned tens of thousands more may come if the violence in
Lebanon escalates.

About 5,000 Americans were being hosted on the island,
awaiting flights home. An estimated 5,000 British evacuees
passing through the British air force base at Akrotiri in
southern Cyprus were swiftly processed and flown home. Britain
said it was wrapping up evacuations by boat on Sunday.


More than 1,000 Canadians walked ashore to safety in Cyprus
on Monday, some saying many more people in Lebanon were trying
to get out.

"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," 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 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

Australia said it expected to take 6,000 or more of its
20,000 citizens out of Lebanon this week, in what its
ambassador to Ankara described as "the biggest Australian
evacuation since the Second World War."

Visiting evacuees in Larnaca on Sunday, France's Defense
Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France would keep 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.

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