The United States expressed concern Tuesday about Americans, possibly hundreds of them, stranded in south Lebanon without safe passage to evacuation points in the capital Beirut and on the coast.
Meanwhile, foreigners fleeing the violence continued to stream into Cyprus, which warned Tuesday it had reached its limit and would need European Union help if it was to receive more evacuees.
“We are aware that there are an undetermined number of Americans at locations in southern Lebanon,” the U.S. State Department said.
Some 35,000 people, including many with injuries, have been evacuated from Lebanon through Cyprus since fighting broke out between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas on July 12, the Cypriot government said. Most have been from European countries, the United States and Canada.
Some 15,000 Americans have been evacuated from Lebanon since fighting erupted. The last scheduled boatload of U.S. citizens was to leave Beirut Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
Israeli airstrikes and sporadic incursions by ground troops have made it unsafe to travel in large areas of the country, especially the south where fighting was most intense.
“I got in a taxi (to Beirut), and he flew,” said Mike Katieib, 32, a Lebanese-American hotel worker from Atlanta, Georgia, who was vacationing in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon and made it to Cyprus Tuesday on a ship. “The roads are scary, there is no safety on roads,” Katieib said.
U.S. officials said they could not estimate how many Americans were stranded in the south. But a German official involved in the evacuation effort, Erik Rattat, had said 300 Americans were trapped southeast of the city of Tyre. U.S. Embassy officials were unable to confirm that but suggested the number could be even higher.
The area around Tyre has been especially hard hit in Israel’s military offensive. At least 15 Americans arrived Tuesday in the city in an 80-vehicle convoy from Yaroun, a village in southeastern Lebanon, evacuation officials said.
U.S. officials said they were evaluating ways to rescue any remaining Americans but would not comment on the nature of their plans.
“We remain concerned about the welfare of all American citizens in Lebanon. We continue to facilitate their departure and return to the United States,” the State Department said.
U.S. officials said they had requested space for 300 Americans on a Cypriot ship, the Princesa Marissa, that left Tyre Monday afternoon. It was one of the only vessels to pick up evacuees at the southern port, rather than Beirut. The Princesa Marissa sailed into the Cypriot port of Larnaca early Tuesday, carrying about 230 foreigners, most of them Europeans.
Canadian ship due in Tyre
American officials have been phoning the homes of U.S. citizens and their relatives in south Lebanon, urging them to travel to Tyre. They had hoped some caught the Cypriot ship, but were unsure how many — if any — were able to board before it pulled out of port.
A Canadian ship was due in Tyre on Wednesday to evacuate more people, and Americans would be allowed on if room was available, officials said.
The Orient Queen, a cruise ship under contract to the U.S. government, left Beirut on Tuesday with 393 Americans, and will return Wednesday for the last scheduled evacuation of U.S. citizens, officials said.
Another 284 passengers on the Vittoria M ship arrived in the Cypriot port of Limassol late Tuesday.
In Cyprus, government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said most of the 35,000 evacuees that have come through the small Mediterranean island have stayed a few hours or a day before flying home.
“As Cyprus, we have not simply reached our limits — we have surpassed them, risking not being able to endure the influx of third-country nationals,” he said, referring to evacuees from non-European countries, such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
“We have to cope with this possibility in case it becomes a reality,” he said. “Where are we going to house them all? And for how long? We are not talking about a few; we’re talking about thousands.”
He pleaded with European countries to open their borders to non-European refugees from Lebanon if and when they started coming.