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11,700 Americans evacuated from Lebanon

U.S. officials said evacuations were wrapping up in Lebanon as nearly 11,700 citizens have been brought to safety through air and sea operations. There were reports, however, that about 300 Americans were trapped in southern villages.
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. officials said their evacuations of Americans from Lebanon were wrapping up, with about 11,700 brought safely out as of Monday, but a group of 300 believed trapped in the south may have been left behind.

The 300 Americans had been in villages south of Tyre, unable to get out, said Erik Rattat, a German official involved in the evacuation operation.

A Cypriot ship arrived in Tyre and took on hundreds of stranded foreigners. Rattat said the U.S. Embassy had called him and asked the Cypriot ship to wait as long as possible in hopes that the Americans could board, but the ship had a deadline to sail at 5 p.m., he said.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene did not see any Americans board the ship, which departed as scheduled. U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment, and there was no word on what happened.

A Canadian ship was due in Tyre on Tuesday to evacuate more people, officials said.

U.S. evacuation nearly complete
Elsewhere, the USS Trenton carried more than 1,000 U.S. citizens to the Turkish port of Mersin, and the evacuees were being taken to a nearby air base to fly home. The USS Nashville brought about 600 people into the port of Limassol, Cyprus.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stopped in Cyprus on her way to Beirut and met briefly with the island’s foreign minister, George Lillikas, whom she thanked for helping with the evacuations, the ministry said.

U.S. Consul William Gill said most Americans who wanted to leave Lebanon had done so by Sunday, and U.S. evacuation efforts were nearly complete.

He also urged anyone considering leaving to make up their minds quickly as fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas showed no sign of waning.

The State Department said approximately 11,700 Americans have been moved out of Lebanon by the United States since July 16. About 1,000 had been expected to depart Monday, it said.

Some 25,000 Americans were believed to be in Lebanon at the start of fighting.

‘Thank God we’re here’
Many boarding U.S. Navy ships Sunday said it had taken them until then to reach evacuation points in Beirut.

“A lot of people died on those roads, so we thought it was better to stay put for a while,” said Rania Hourani, 23, from Dearborn, Mich. She had been vacationing with relatives in southern Lebanon when the fighting began.

“You’re waiting, you’re scared, you don’t know if you’re going to die. But you have to get out because you’re going to die either from starvation, fear, stress or a bomb. Thank God we’re here,” she said.

The last large group of Britons requesting evacuation sailed out of Beirut on Sunday.

“We have brought back the last designated ship carrying people who wanted ... assisted departure,” said Dennis Barnes, spokesman for British military bases in Cyprus.

He said a total of about 4,500 people had been evacuated, no more had registered to leave, “and the embassy tells us no one is knocking on their door.”

Aid corridor being negotiated
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, said 2,526 of those evacuated were British nationals, and no more evacuations were planned.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised comments that more than 100 Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics may be caught in southern Lebanon.

The Russians were making their way to the Russian Embassy in Beirut, as Russia and Israel were negotiating a corridor by which the buses could travel safely to the Syrian border, Lavrov said.

Nearly 2,000 citizens from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics have been evacuated from Lebanon, and scores more were to be bused from Beirut to Syria this week, he said.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said her country’s evacuations would also be complete after one more day. Some 5,000 French nationals have been pulled out of Lebanon so far, she said.