Some 10,000 Americans evacuated from Lebanon this week


AFP
Date: 07-22-06

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Some 10,000 Americans have been evacuated from Lebanon amid Israel's continuing offensive against Hezbollah militants, the US government said.

US warships, helicopters and chartered commercial vessels were transporting American nationals from Lebanon to Cyprus and Turkey, the State Department and the Pentagon said.

The exodus has dramatically picked up pace, with more than 6,000 Americans whisked out of Lebanon over the last two days, figures showed.

As of Saturday at 2000 GMT, a total of about 10,000 US nationals had left since the evacuation operation began on July 16, the State Department said in a statement.

The US embassy in Beirut meanwhile suggested that most Americans who want to leave Lebanon have already done so and that the US push to evacuate its nationals would soon be winding down.

"The US Department of State believes that the majority of Americans who wish to leave have already done so," said a statement released late Saturday urging Americans who wish to depart Lebanon "to do so now."

"At this time there is no wait for US government-assisted boat transport out of Lebanon," the statement said.

"After Sunday, July 23, the opportunity to leave with the assistance of the US government will diminish. American citizens should not delay if they wish to depart Lebanon."

There were an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon before the violence erupted.

The Rahmah -- a Saudi-owned, Panamanian-flagged passenger ship -- reached Limassol, Cyprus with 642 American and 121 Canadian evacuees Saturday.

And the USS Nashville departed Lebanon carrying some 1,000 passengers, most of them US nationals, according to the State Department.

The US Air Force Transportation Command was arranging commercial flights from Cyprus to the east coast cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia for American evacuees, the State Department said.

About 2,000 evacuees have already returned to the United States, the State Department said Saturday, vowing to "continue to transport Americans using all resources available."

The US government urged US citizens Wednesday to leave Lebanon as soon as possible because of the Israeli offensive against the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, which has left more than 350 people dead in 11 days.



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