Fri, Jul 21, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thousands of evacuees find safe haven in Cyprus

AGENCIES , NICOSIA AND LARNACA, CYPRUS

More than 6,500 foreign nationals fleeing Israeli airstrikes were expected to find safe haven on Cyprus by today.

A cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 Americans from Lebanon arrived in the Cyprus port city of Larnaca after being contracted by the US government to assist with the evacuation effort.

The Orient Queen arrived early yesterday, bringing to more than 1,600 the number of US citizens that have been evacuated from Lebanon since clashes broke out last week.

Hundreds of US citizens were taken out by US military helicopters in recent days.

The US Ambassador to Cyprus Ronald Schlicher said the government's effort to evacuate its citizens from Beirut was just beginning, adding that several thousands were expected to arrive in Cyprus over the next few days.

US naval vessels were also in the region to escort commercial ships carrying evacuees.

Three ships have docked in the port of Larnaca since Wednesday, among them a UN ship carrying an unknown number of passengers and a French ship with 320 on board.

Another French ship with 900 French evacuees arrived yesterday morning.

The USS Nashville was preparing to take about 1,000 Americans out of Lebanon.

Approximately 2,200 US Marines are in the area ready to assist with the evacuation along with nine military ships, including a helicopter carrier.

About 40 Marines arrived on a beach in a Christian area north of Beirut at dawn yesterday. The lightly armed Marines came ashore in a landing craft, which they will use to ferry up to 400 people per trip to a troop carrier anchored offshore.

The Marines, helped by Lebanese soldiers, sloshed through waves to carry women and children to the landing craft. Some frightened children cried, but many people smiled with relief.

"We are very happy to leave," said Lebanese-born American Fadia Semaan, fleeing with her husband and three children.

"We are used to war from 30 years ago, but the kids are not," said her husband, George.

"We are glad to be leaving, but also very sad. We left a lot of family behind with no food or money or anything else," he said.

The Americans, the biggest group of US citizens to have been evacuated from Lebanon so far, were taken on buses to a facility prepared for them at the Nicosia fairground. Many were expected to board two charter flights to Baltimore later yesterday.

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