Image: Americans flee Beirut
Hussein Malla  /  AP
Americans haul luggage towards a U.S. landing craft at a beach in Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday. The U.S. said it was prepared to evacuate about 5,000 Americans as the international exodus from besieged Lebanon reached a peak.
updated 7/22/2006 6:41:17 AM ET 2006-07-22T10:41:17

The crowd of Americans lining Beirut’s coast thinned Saturday, indicating the U.S. evacuation from war-torn Lebanon was nearing an end, despite some last-minute glitches.

A Saudi-owned commercial ship sailed toward Turkey with 900 Americans on board, 500 less than officials had hoped to get on the vessel. The Rahmah had been scheduled to leave Friday night but was 12 hours late arriving at the port, and fewer people were able to be processed.

Two U.S. Navy transport ships also took 2,775 more Americans to Cyprus late Friday. That left two more Navy transport ships, a control and command vessel and two American destroyers still standing by in the Mediterranean.

Major evacuation operations were expected to be over by the end of the weekend, U.S. officials said.

There was capacity to evacuate an additional 3,000 Americans on Saturday, though officials were unsure that many would turn up.

Some 8,000 of the 25,000 Americans who live in Lebanon have left so far. They joined some 33,000 other foreigners who have fled Lebanon since Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, setting off the Israeli offensive. Hezbollah has responded by raining rockets onto Israel.

Canadian officials were evacuating their nationals — members of Lebanon’s largest foreign community, estimated at 50,000 — from another seaside facility in downtown Beirut. Hundreds stood in line outdoors early Saturday, waiting for their documents to be checked.

Unlike chaos that marred previous days of Canadian evacuation efforts, the process appeared to be going more smoothly Saturday. Hundreds of people, rolling luggage behind them, held the hands of their children and filed into a seaside processing center.

A few wept, having to leave behind a homeland shrouded with uncertainty.

They rode buses to the water’s edge, and were to board a ship to Cyprus. Another big ship was expected to arrive in the afternoon to pick up more people, Canadian officials said.

Officials expect to evacuate some 30,000 Canadians from Lebanon. So far only 2,413 have left since the operation began mid-week. Some 2,000 people were expected to leave Saturday.

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