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From ic.scotland.co.uk -

Americans Board Cruise Ship Out of Lebanon

Americans wiped away tears, hugged relatives and grumbled about evacuation delays Wednesday before boarding a luxury ship that was to carry them from war-torn Lebanon.

Crew members of the Orient Queen welcomed aboard parents pushing strollers and clutching their children.

Many expressed frustration that it had taken the U.S. government so long to get them out of Lebanon while Europeans and Lebanese with foreign passports already have fled by the thousands.

``I can't believe the Americans,'' Danni Atiyeh, a 39-year-old civil engineer from Kansas City, Mo., said as he stood with his pregnant wife and sons Ali, 10, and Adrian, 6, while waiting for buses that were taking them to the ship. ``Everybody else has gone home ... We're still here.''

The State Department said Tuesday it had dropped a plan to make Americans reimburse the government for the trip, but Atiyeh said he and others were asked to sign promissory notes to pay for the trip before they could leave.

It wasn't clear what time the ship would leave port. An estimated 8,000 of the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon want to leave the country.

There were emotional goodbyes, hugs and tears as the Americans, many of Lebanese descent, were dropped off at a gathering point by relatives.

There were also nervous moments. A woman standing alone waiting to have her passport checked broke into tears when a loud explosion shook Beirut from an airstrike on Hezbollah's south Beirut stronghold.

Those fleeing - including families with children - were relieved but also worried about the loved ones being left behind.

``I'm very happy to be finally out of here,'' said Joumana Safa, 33, of Atlanta, who had been vacationing with her two young children. ``But I'm so sad for Lebanon and I am very worried for my family here. I wish I could take them with us.''

On Tuesday, 320 Americans, mostly children, students and the elderly, left by military helicopter and a European ship.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman told The Associated Press more than 1,000 Americans would depart Wednesday and said the evacuation's slow start was intended to safeguard Americans.

Two U.S. military Chinook helicopters carrying 120 Americans landed in Cyprus on Wednesday, U.S. Embassy officials said. The helicopters were far larger that the ones previously used, indicating the U.S. military was beefing up its evacuation effort.

On a separate front, the U.S. consulate evacuated 105 Americans from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday because of an Israeli military incursion there, said consulate spokeswoman Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm. It was the second U.S. evacuation from Gaza since Israel launched a ground operation last month.

Europeans have been evacuated from Lebanon in the thousands since their governments began moving them out in the first days of the hostilities. Nearly 1,000 were on a Swedish-chartered ship that left Beirut on Tuesday, and a British warship and Greek frigate transported nearly 600 of those countries' nationals away from Lebanon.

Six chartered passenger ships were to be in position off the coast of Lebanon on Wednesday to begin evacuating up to 30,000 Canadians. Authorities intend to evacuate some 4,500 a day, ferrying them to Cyprus.

Asian officials across the Asia-Pacific region also struggled to evacuate more than 30,000 citizens.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the primary concern was that people be taken out in a safe and organized manner. He said the Beirut port was working at a higher capacity than normal, making it challenging to get ships from various countries in and out.

After criticism from Congress, the State Department said it dropped plans to ask Americans to pay for their rides on commercial vessels. Earlier, authorities planned to make Americans sign a note pledging to reimburse the U.S. government the price of a commercial flight from Beirut to Cyprus - usually $150-$200.

Hundreds of tired Americans, Swedes, Norwegians and others, meanwhile, reached Cyprus' port of Larnaca aboard a Norwegian car ferry, the Hual Transporter, shortly before dawn.

``I have regrets, yes. But if I didn't leave now I didn't know when I was going to get another chance,'' said Michael May, 21, a student from Norwalk, Conn., who had been in Beirut for about four weeks.

Marcia Winitzer, a lawyer from Boston blamed U.S. embassy officials in Beirut for moving slowly to evacuate citizens.

``What they say is they're working on a plan, but things are getting really bad there,'' she said angrily.


Rushie
 

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What an ungrateful bunch.

Whether it be British, Canadian or Americans in Lebanon there has been nothing but complaints about the speed of evacuation. What do they expect, that governments can create ships out of thin air or invent skyhooks to lift them out of a place that they should not have been visiting in the first place.

Our press is blaming the government because only one of seven ships chartered to evacuate Canadians arrived in Beirut as scheduled. The owner of the remaining six ships insisted, rightly so, that Israel guarantee safe passage to his ships and crew before allowing them to enter Lebanese waters. Of course the international press fail to understand the complexities of chartering large passenger ships in the middle of the summer season at a moments notice nor do they want to know about port congestion.

What makes me even more angry is the fact that most of these pseudo tourists hold dual nationality and returned to live in their originating country after attaining citizenship in the UK, Canada or the U.S.A. How many have recently paid taxes to their rescuing "new" country or have any intention of ever repaying the cost of bailing them out of a situation entirely of their own making.
 

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Reaction from first evacuees

From chron.com -

LARNACA, CYPRUS - The first group of exhausted Americans evacuated from Beirut arrived on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus before dawn today aboard a cruise ship in what was expected to become one of the largest evacuations since World War II.

With its white paint and festive lights, the eight-deck Orient Queen reminded some at dockside of the Love Boat. But one glance at the estimated 900 people on board made it clear that this had not been a pleasure cruise.

The passengers who had fled the fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces started coming down the gangway at 2:30 a.m. after the long trip and an even longer wait to get out of Lebanon. First off were the elderly, walking with canes, and then came a number of young mothers with fatigued infants in their arms.

One of the first people to depart the ship was Linda Zarifi, a Lebanese American from Austin who was visiting family in Lebanon when the violence erupted July 12.


Criticizing U.S. response
"It was a horrible, horrible vacation," she said. "It was a disaster. The trip out was very long, and I'm really, really tired. It took a long time to get out of Lebanon. It was chaotic."

She planned to take one of the charter flights organized by the U.S. Embassy to return to the United States as quickly as possible.

The Americans were expected to be joined by another 8,000 U.S. evacuees in the next week as the government's evacuation unfolds, using both civilian and naval vessels. Another 1,500 Americans are to arrive here later today.

The evacuation got under way two days after the first Europeans fled the Lebanese capital on ships, and thousands more Europeans continued to stream out by sea Wednesday.

Some Americans in Lebanon harshly criticized Washington for seeming to respond slowly to the fighting. Israeli jets have attacked targets in the Beirut area nearly every day for the past week, while gunners for Hezbollah shot missiles into northern Israel and its militiamen engaged in firefights with Israeli soldiers.

U.S. officials, however, said that extra time was needed for planning and coordinating such a large evacuation. Others said they also wanted to make sure the evacuees were taken out in a certain level of comfort.

Some of the arriving evacuees seemed almost relaxed after their ordeal. A few even managed to enjoy the chance to ride on a well-equipped cruise ship, said Nabil el-Hage, of Weston, Mass., who was traveling with his daughter, Beatrice, when the fighting started.

"We had a private cabin, and I took a nice shower," he said. "They had sandwiches and mixed drinks. I had a piña colada. Some people were swimming in the pools."

The criticism of the U.S. evacuation was unfair, he said. "They took an extra day, but it was worth it. It was very well-organized."

He said the vessels used in the U.S. evacuation were an obvious target for Hezbollah.

"They had to get the security right," he said of the U.S. officials. "There were Marines all over the place (in the port of Beirut, where the evacuation began). They did a really good job."

Officials in Washington said that the U.S. government will use four ships for the evacuation, including a naval transport, the USS Nashville. Other naval vessels will protect the evacuees' ships as they steam between Beirut and Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus.

Hezbollah showed it can hit a ship at sea when a missile struck an Israeli warship last weekend, killing several sailors.

The first Americans, who came out earlier on French and Norwegian vessels, were able to escape most of the bloodshed in Lebanon.

The violence prompted European nations, including Italy, France and Spain, to remove hundreds of their citizens in recent days. French officials called for safe transit areas to be established inside Lebanon so people can be taken out of the country without fear of being bombed.


An enormous effort

One British official said the removal of Britons from Lebanon would involve the largest evacuation since the famed withdrawal from Dunkirk.

During World War II, more than 300,000 British, French and Belgian troops were evacuated from Dunkirk and the surrounding French beaches in May and June 1940, escaping advancing German forces. At the time, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, said it was "a miracle of deliverance." Many small craft captained by their private owners participated in the evacuation under German bombardment.

Some of the evacuees today said they were not frightened because they had been through similar events in the past during Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

"We're kind of used to it," said Kamil Saber, a Lebanese American who lives in New Jersey. "But it wasn't pleasant. We couldn't move. We were afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Still, he said he and other Lebanese Americans are determined to return next summer for their traditional visits.


Not a satisfied bunch are they Keltic Star...!
 
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