your connection to The Boston Globe

Thousands more Americans flee Lebanon to Cyprus

LARNACA, Cyprus -- Ships and aircraft worked through the night and into this morning, picking up thousands more foreign nationals in Lebanon and bringing them to safety in Cyprus and Turkey.

US helicopters and boats ferried US evacuees from a Lebanese military base north of Beirut to seven military and charter ships offshore. Officials said the number of Americans waiting to leave yesterday was the largest in three days.

The amphibious transport ship USS Trenton, the biggest vessel so far involved in the evacuation, was due to deposit nearly 2,000 people at the Cypriot port of Larnaca early today.

The Pentagon said about 5,000 Americans were taken out of Lebanon yesterday by sea and air, the largest single day total to date in the operation.

About 8,000 of the estimated 25,000 Americans had been evacuated as of last night, and Ronald Schlicher, the US ambassador to Cyprus, said thousands more were expected to arrive in Cyprus this weekend.

France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, said it had removed some 3,000 of its nationals so far from Lebanon. Around 2,000 have already been flown back to Paris on specially chartered flights.

On Thursday, about 1,000 Americans disembarked in Larnaca from the USS Nashville after being rescued by US Marines. Another 1,000 arrived at the port of Limassol on a cruise liner chartered by the US government.

About 300 Canadians were welcomed with carnations at the Turkish port of Mersin, which volunteered to become a second transit point for the growing tide of distressed evacuees after Cyprus warned it could no longer bear the strain. Officials said as many as 30,000 Canadians were scheduled for evacuation, and more than 2,400 had left Beirut by the end of the day yesterday.

US troops watched from rooftops around the US Embassy in the Lebanese capital as evacuees fleeing Israel's bombardment boarded helicopters taking them to US ships offshore.

At a nearby beach, people with suitcases and some cradling babies in their arms lined up for processing before climbing aboard a landing craft to take them to waiting ships.

``I felt like I was held hostage, not in a room, but in a country," said Touf Hasoun, 45, looking relieved to be on board the USS Trenton headed for Cyprus. ``It drove me crazy not to be able to leave by air, sea, or land."

Cyprus warned that it may not be able to handle the mass of evacuees arriving at the peak of its tourist season, and the US Embassy in Ankara said Turkey had agreed to help.

On Thursday, about 1,000 Americans were taken to a massive ``camp-bed city" set up on a fairground in Nicosia. Many were angry for not being told how long they would stay there.

``They told me we might be able to leave tomorrow or perhaps in a week," said Nejat Salah, a 37-year-old photographer from Los Angeles who held her daughter by the hand.

``If it's going to be like this here in Cyprus, perhaps I should start looking for a way to go back to Lebanon."

Cyprus, which has a population of just under a million, said it was struggling to deal with the crisis and could be forced to accept only EU nationals unless the EU helped.

``The European Union cannot leave a member state unaided in handling this truly serious humanitarian emergency," government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said.

Cyprus was bracing for thousands of more Canadians among many others. Officials say they expect an average of 4,000 people arriving each day, putting a strain on resources.

Ships from Italy, Britain, Greece, and India also docked in Cyprus overnight . A Cypriot vessel chartered by the UN brought 1,000 passengers to Larnaca.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives