BEIRUT, Lebanon, AP -Europeans and Lebanese with foreign passports fled Lebanon by the thousands, while Americans expressed frustration at the slow pace of U.S. evacuation efforts Tuesday as a cruise ship chugged toward the country to pick them up.
A Greek cruise ship carrying about 700 French citizens and others — many women and children — out of Lebanon arrived in Cyprus’ port of Larnaca, while scores of people waited to board the Hual Transporter, a Swedish chartered ship docked at Beirut’s port.
Haakon Svane, an official with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, said the ship was expected to carry about 1,000 passengers, including Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and a few Americans.
An American man and his wife boarding the Swedish chartered ship expressed anger at how long the process to evacuate U.S. citizens was taking as fighting between the Israelis and Hezbollah guerrillas entered its seventh day.
“I can’t wait any more. I’m sorry it’s taking them too long,” he said. The man, who said he was from Pennsylvania, said he was too distraught to be interviewed and declined to give his name.
Jonathan Chakhtoura, a 19-year-old Lebanese-American fashion design student in Boston, said he registered with the U.S. Embassy electronically to be evacuated three days ago, but he has not heard from the embassy except for an e-mail acknowledging his registration.
Chakhtoura, who would like to be back in the U.S. before classes start on Sept. 6, said he was disappointed with the way the embassy has handled the evacuation.
“Every time I call to see what’s going on the lines are busy. When they answer, they say they don’t know,” he complained. “I am extremely disappointed. A lot of people don’t know what is going on. There is so much confusion. If it’s security they are worried about, then I think we will be more secure if we know what is going on.”
The U.S. Navy said the cruise ship Orient Queen left Cyprus’s port of Limassol for Beirut. Escorted by a U.S. destroyer, it was to join U.S. military helicopters that have ferried a few dozen U.S. citizens to a British base on Cyprus. Officials said the Orient Queen can carry 750 people at a time and it was expected to be full. A U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Gonzales, will be available to escort the Orient Queen, the Pentagon said, although officials declined to provide times for the ship’s arrival or departure from Beirut.
U.S. military helicopters have ferried about 20 U.S. citizens to a British base on the nearby Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and more took off on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said, but it did not give a number.
Israel instituted a sea blockade three miles off shore as part of its campaign of retribution after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12 in a cross-border raid, but it was allowing evacuation ships through. Lebanon’s only international airport has been shut since Thursday when Israeli jets bombed all three runways.
“I am extremely sad for Lebanon and for all my new friends here,” said Tara Olsson, a 19-year-old Swedish student who was leaving just two weeks after she arrived in Lebanon to study Arabic. “I actually didn’t want to leave, but when I heard foreign embassies were organizing evacuations I got worried.”
Leila Issa, a 45-year-old Swedish woman of Lebanese origin who had come to spend the summer in Lebanon, said she would never return. “I have learned my lesson, this country is hopeless,” the teacher said as she helped her 75-year-old mother board the ship.
Ali Khreiss, a 46-year-old man said he wamted to stay behind and fight with Hezbollah but his wife begged him to leave.
“I want to be part of this. This is the first time an Arab country bombs Haifa,” he said, referring to the Israel’s third-largest city targeted by Hezbollah rockets for the first time this week. “I will drop them off in Sweden and return,” he added.
The Canadian government said Tuesday it has arranged for sea vessels to assist Canadians wishing to depart Lebanon beginning Wednesday.
A Turkish ship, the “Su,” left northern Cyprus on Tuesday to evacuate Swedish and other EU citizens stranded in Beirut, according to the Turkish Cypriot news agency, TAK. The ship was to reach Lebanon later Tuesday and take some 450 Europeans to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Mersin, it said.
France, which ruled Lebanon as a colony until 1943, has more than 20,000 citizens in Lebanon. Most of those who left Monday were of Lebanese origin. Many of the French passengers were reportedly to be flown to France aboard chartered jumbo jets.
The Greek cruise ship Ierapetra arrived just after dawn at Cyprus port of Larnaca, and some of the evacuees expressed regret about having to leave.
The passengers included many children, including one who was taken off on a stretcher, and 34 Americans — many students.
Ryan Furhu, 20, from Baltimore was studying Arabic during a summer session at the American University of Beirut. “In last few days we were waiting to get out,” he said. “We were studying Arabic at summer school but obviously that ended.”
Renee Codsi, a 29-year-old teacher from California, said she had been living in Beirut for the past four years.
“Lebanon has become my home. I’m worried about the people I left behind. I wasn’t really worried about myself,” she said.
A teacher of environmental science at the American Community School in Beirut, Codsi said she had a 73-year-old Lebanese father whom she left behind.
The Ierapetra arrived in Larnaca a few hours after an Italian warship brought more than 300 Italians and other Westerners to Cyprus.