Aust defence staff for Beirut

Logistic experts are among the defence personnel who will work with Department of Foreign Affairs staff, as frustration increases for Australians trapped in the country.

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It comes after an Australian chartered ship from Turkey was gazumped by another country on Wednesday, leaving hundreds of people waiting at Beirut’s port.

However, security fears over the port meant the ship never even arrived.

Australians evacuated to Cyprus

Australian officials had appealed to Britain to evacuate priority cases on navy warships after the double-booking of the Turkish ferry.

They now hope a British naval destroyer which had arrived in Cyprus was also transporting Australian citizens evacuated from Lebanon.

It’s believed a number of Australians were aboard the HMS Gloucester which had docked in the Cypriot port of Limassol with 513 evacuees on board.

But there’s been no breakdown of the nationalities aboard Gloucester which was making its second evacuation run from Beirut.

Earlier there were a number of Australians among an estimated 300 evacuees from Lebanon though aboard a British navy destroyer which docked safely in Cyprus late Wednesday.

The HMS York docked just after 9 pm Wednesday local time (4 am Thursday AEST) in the Cypriot port of Limassol unloading men women and children including small babies.

They have been taken from the ship by bus into a nearby hanger for processing.

Australian consular officials were waiting to greet the Australian refugees coming off the ship but it’s not yet known how many Australians were on board.

Journey home

The evacuees will be taken to the nearby Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri where they’ll be given the option of flying to the UK on planes chartered by the British government.

Those who don’t wish to make that trip can stay in Cyprus but will have to find their own accommodation and make their own travel plans.

Another British naval destroyer HMS Gloucester is expected to arrive in the early hours of Thursday morning local time carrying another 650 civilians from Lebanon.

More ships chartered

Australian officials are now trying to find places for those stranded Australian evacuees on British, Canadian and US ships.

They are also hoping more will make their way out on Wednesday, with a Greek naval landing ship tipped to be used to move more out.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said solid contracts had been reached to use chartered ships to move more than 2,000 people out of the country over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Prime Minister John Howard has spoken to his Canadian counterpart about possible spaces on its naval vessels, however Mr Downer said it was unlikely these ships could get into Beirut.

There are also grave concerns for up to 400 Australians who are thought to be trapped in southern Lebanon.

Mr Downer said there was nothing Australia could do to help these people, offering just a few words of advice to them.

“Stay put, but make sure you keep well away from Hezbollah or any Hezbollah infrastructure,” he said.

Claims investigated

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Department is investigating claims that Australians trapped in Lebanon are being asked to pay a thousand dollars to be evacuated.

According to the ABC, an Adelaide woman has reportedly been told that evacuees would have to pay to get on a ferry or bus arranged by the Australian embassy.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said Australians should not be paying a fee to evacuate, and the claims are being taken very seriously.

Americans evacuated

A US-chartered ship carrying more than 1,000 Americans to safety from Lebanon arrived in the Cypriot port of Larnaca early Thursday.

In the first large American evacuation from Lebanon since the conflict erupted a week ago, the Greek cruise ship Orient Queen sailed from Beirut with 1,059 people on board.

It was the latest in a growing flotilla of evacuee ships being hurriedly assembled by Western governments.

Marine helicopters had flown out small groups of Americans from the US embassy on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital to a British air force base on Cyprus in previous days.

Meanwhile thousands of Lebanese have joined foreigners braving the road to Syria to flee the Israeli bombardments that’s killed more than 290 people in eight days.

Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on the 12th of July.

Hezbollah rocket strikes have killed 15 civilians in Israel.