Nations step efforts up to evacuate civilians fom Lebanon

PARIS (AFP) — Foreign capitals rushed to evacuate frightened nationals from the escalating Lebanese conflict Monday, as Israel indicated it may provide windows in its campaign of aerial bombardment to facilitate safe passage.

While thousands of foreign residents of Lebanon were taking the land route to Syria, others were waiting to be brought out by ship or helicopter to Cyprus.

France and Britain — with between them some 30,000 passport-holders in Lebanon — were both sending warships to the Lebanese coast, and a ferry-boat chartered by the government in Paris was heading for Beirut from Limassol in Cyprus.

The Iera Petra was due to dock during the day and bring out 1,200 French and European nationals, the French ambassador in Nicosia, Hadelin de la Tour du Pin, said.

Some 40 British nationals were taken out by helicopter from Beirut Monday morning, taking advantage of the visit of the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana, British Ambassador James Watt told the BBC.

Full-scale evacuation should start later in the day, he said, but in the meantime advice to British nationals was to stay in the relative safety of their homes.

Any air or sea operation to bring out civilians would need close coordination with the Israeli armed forces, who have been staging daily raids over Beirut and other cities.

A spokesman in Jerusalem said liaison is under way with both the European Union and the United States.

“We are coordinating with the Europeans and Americans how to get foreign civilians out of Lebanon. We are trying to organise the evacuation,” he said.

Ths US said Sunday it has contingency arrangements in place for the evacuation of an estimated 25,000 passport-holders, and that planning teams are on the ground in Beirut.

Some 20 Americans — including several suffering from medical conditions — were taken by US Marines helicopter to Cyprus Monday morning, a US military official said.

Among other countries implementing evacuation plans, Indonesia said it was bringing out its citizens including diplomatic staff, and Thailand said it had made arrangements for some 25 nationals to cross by land to Damascus.

Bangkok was also making contingency plans to move some 25,000 Thai farm-workers in Israel in case the conflict spreads, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Some 300 Swedish residents of Lebanon arrived in Stockholm Monday morning after flying out of Syria, and a foreign ministry spokesman said several thousand could follow.

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