Thousands of foreigners flee Lebanon

Thousands of foreigners were fleeing Lebanon on Monday to escape Israeli air strikes which have pounded the country for six days, some travelling by road to Syria, others waiting for places on US and European ships.

    Lebanon is home to 17,000 French residents

    Syrian authorities said more than 100,000 people, three-quarters of them foreigners, had crossed into Syria from Lebanon over the past five days to reach safety after Beirut  airport was bombed and forced to close.


    The United States flew out more than 40 citizens by helicopter and prepared to evacuate thousands more by ship. An Italian navy ship carrying 366 Europeans was the first vessel from Lebanon to reach the nearby Mediterranean island of Cyprus.


    "I am glad to be out, but, on the other hand, I am so sad at what is being done to Lebanon," said Mona Demachkieh, 27, originally from Milan.


    As Europeans gathered near their embassies in Beirut, the European Union urged Israel to guarantee the safety of tens of thousands of EU citizens in Lebanon.


    "Several times, I have been in touch with the Israeli minister and urged them to give clear guarantees these people are not endangered," Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish foreign minister, whose country holds the EU presidency, told reporters.


    French move


    Many are waiting for US and
    European ships to get them out

    France dispatched a chartered ferry to Beirut on Monday to pick up several hundred French nationals and take them to Cyprus. The ferry, guarded by a French frigate, was due to make at least three trips to Beirut this week.


    A former French mandate, Lebanon is home to 17,000 French residents. Up to 5,000 French tourists are visiting the country.


    France has mobilised some 800 troops to help with the evacuation and has seven helicopters in the area on standby.


    "If things get complicated, we will go and find the French people where they are," Jean-Francois Bureau, the defence ministry spokesman, said in Paris.


    Seventeen-year-old French national Fouad Jawad, waiting at the French embassy, cried at the sound of Israeli missiles bombing Hezbollah's stronghold in a Beirut suburb to the south.


    "Our family is still there, we are afraid that something happened to them. They have not been answering their phones," said Jawad, a student.


    "No one cares"


    Mohammed Koubaissi: No one
    cares about Arab lives

    Mohammed Koubaissi, 40, a businessman with a French passport, said: "No one cares about Arab lives. Having a European nationality is like a pass from hell to heaven."


    The United States flew 43 more US citizens out of Lebanon on Monday and hired a commercial cruise ship to help with the possible evacuation of thousands more, US officials said.  The Pentagon said a naval destroyer would escort the cruise ship.


    Sean McCormack, the US State Department spokesman, said the message to US citizens trapped in the conflict was: "Make sure your bags are ready to go. We are ... operating on a scale of potentially thousands of people who want to leave."


    A first batch of 21 Americans was evacuated on Sunday as a US military team arrived to plan bigger evacuations.


    The US State Department said there were about 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, but only about 8,000 had registered with the embassy as living in the country or travelling there.


    Syria waves visa rules


    "In Syria, the citizens of the US and other nations find a safe haven from the barbaric and atrocious acts of the Israeli army in Lebanon"

    The Syrian embassy in Washington

    Syria's embassy in Washington said the Syrian government had told border officials to waive visa requirements to ease entry.


    "In Syria, the citizens of the US and other nations find a safe haven from the barbaric and atrocious acts of the Israeli army in Lebanon," the embassy said in a statement.


    Canada's foreign ministry said it had chartered six ships and hoped to be able to start evacuating citizens to Cyprus by mid-week. Seven Canadians were killed on Sunday in an Israeli attack on Lebanon.


    "Using these ships we can evacuate around 4,500 people a day," a senior official told reporters.


    So far, 25,000 Canadians have registered with the country's embassy but, the official said the total number of Canadian passport holders in Lebanon was estimated to be around 50,000.


    "The majority of Canadians in Lebanon are, in fact, residents of Lebanon and one has to question whether they would leave their homes," said the official.


    Britain evacuated about 40 people from Beirut by helicopter on Monday and British warships moved towards the coast for the possible evacuation of 10,000 British passport holders.


    Germany said it would help a further 500 Germans leave Lebanon on Monday after 200 were evacuated at the weekend.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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