July 16, 2006

US evacuates medical cases from Lebanon

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first U.S. Embassy employees and
Americans with medical needs were evacuated from Lebanon on
Sunday by a Marine Corps helicopter bound for Cyprus as
shelling between Hizbollah and Israel intensified.

The flight carried about 20 people, including several with
conditions requiring such things as kidney dialysis, and
nonessential U.S. personnel, said Air Force Lt. Sharbe Clark, a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Central Command.

A U.S. security team had flown in earlier in the day on the
same CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter to plan for a larger
evacuation of the estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon.

A State Department official, Gonzalo Gallegos, said more
U.S. officials had arrived on the incoming flight than had left
on the outgoing one.

Israeli air raids, retaliating for Hizbollah rocket
attacks, struck Beirut on a fifth day of a bombardment that has
killed 112 people.

White House officials said earlier the embassy was not
being evacuated.

"The embassy is open and will remain open in support of
American citizens in Lebanon," said Frederick Jones, spokesman
for the White House National Security Council.

Nonessential travel by U.S. officials from the embassy
compound near Beirut will be restricted while the security
situation is assessed, Jones said from the Group of Eight
summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

He said the State Department had granted permission for
nonessential embassy employees to leave.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in St Petersburg and
Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington)