Evacuations to wind back

“The government plans to continue providing ferries to assist Australians to depart for a further two days, Monday 24 July and Tuesday 25 July,” Mr Downer said in a statement.


“The government will do its best to assist Australians to depart from Lebanon after 25 July though its capacity to do so will be

seriously constrained.”

Mr Downer said to date, around 3,700 Australians had departed with the assistance of the government.

Howard hits back at critics

Prime Minister John Howard has also urged those Australians still in Lebanon to leave without delay.

Speaking in Victoria, Mr Howard hit back at critics of the government’s efforts to evacuate Australians.

“I think some of the comments made last week by certain community leaders were totally unfair and totally unjustified, and completely over the top in their criticism of what the Australian government was doing,” he said.

“To my knowledge, there has been no loss of life or serious injury directly attributable to any alleged slowness on the part of any Australian official to get people out.”

Govt may send ship

Australia is trying to get its own chartered ship into southern Lebanon to try to rescue stranded Australians.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) earlier advised Australians trapped in the worst hit area of war-torn Lebanon they may be able to find places on German or Canadian ships leaving Tyre.

But a DFAT spokesman says Australian officials are working to also secure its own chartered ship in case more spaces are needed.

“We are continuing our negotiations with the Germans, also the Canadians,” he said. “To ensure adequate capacity we are making arrangements for an Australian vessel.

“That is subject to significant security issues being addressed, which includes approval from relevant authorities.”

It is understood the government is talking to the Israeli defence force about whether it could get a vessel in safely.

Buses to depart Sidon

The Australian Embassy is also arranging buses to travel from Sidon today, leaving at about 1900 AEST to evacuate citizens in the south.

Cars will collect Australians from the villages of Nabatieh, Khiam, Marjayoun, Hasbaya and Rachaiya for transport to Sidon to join the buses.

The government is unsure how many Australians are looking to leave the south because communication into the region is difficult after the bombing of mobile phone towers, as well as power shortages.

“DFAT are using resources both in Lebanon and community contacts in Australia to confirm numbers and locations in southern Lebanon,” the DFAT spokesman said.