Hundreds evacuate Lebanon

On Monday night, 86 Australians were bused to Syria then onto Jordan and the Federal Government is hopes to evacuate more by bus on Tuesday.

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Mr Howard estimated that 4,000 Australians had registered with the embassy in Beirut and said the government is doing everything it can to help Australians wanting to get out.

“The fighting is getting heavier, it’s more dangerous the alternative exit routes and I ask people to bear with us in a situation that is very traumatic for them but extremely challenging,” Mr Howard said.

The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says he hopes more bus loads can leave

Lebanon and another 600 people could be ferried to Cyprus by a chartered ship later this week.

One of the Australians evacuated from Lebanon says it was a long and hard journey to safety.

Levon Demirian, from the Armenian Sydney dance troupe stranded in Beirut, said it took 17 hours to get to Amman.

“It was very tiring especially for the young ones and the old ones that we have but for the freedom’s sake we were actually happy for it,” Mr Demirian told ABC radio.

Mr Downer could not confirm reports of any Australians being killed in Lebanon.

An Australian man who fled the bloodshed told the ABC last night he believes Australians have died in clashes near the southern Lebanese town of Aitaroun.

But Mr Downer told the Nine Network his department has been unable to confirm the report.

Foreigners flee

In the first mass evacuation by sea to neighbouring Cyprus, an Italian vessel carrying more than 300 people docked in the port of Larnaca.

The Italian destroyer carrying is the first of a growing flotilla of vessels sent by foreign governments to evacuate worried nationals.

Many of those aboard the vessel were children, one of them an infant only a few days old, Italian diplomats said.

According to the BBC, Britain dispatched two warships in preparation for a possible larger-scale evacuation. The British Foreign Office estimates there are about 10,000 Britons in Lebanon.

The British Foreign Office minister Kim Howells told parliament that the Royal Navy could be faced with “the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk”, to evacuate stranded British citizens from Lebanon.

Dunkirk involved some 330,000 soldiers being evacuated by sea from France in 1940.

The country has already evacuated about 40 citizens out of Beirut by helicopter on Sunday night.

The United States meanwhile was preparing to help potentially thousands of nationals flee.

Harrowing stories

Evacuees arriving in Cyprus have told of their experiences in Lebanon amid the Israeli air raids.

“There were a lot of bombs and we were very scared,” said 14-year-old Italian national Tamora Hassoun.

“We had to sleep in the embassy before we could get out of Lebanon,” she said. “It was scary but I feel safe now.”

Chady Chatila, 36, also Italian, said she felt “very tired” after travelling for more than 30 hours.

“We could see the bombs and we could see the smoke rising from the Italian embassy,” she said. “The bombs were getting closer, the children were crying and I thought we would never get out.”

Officials have reported some 186 of the evacuees aboard the Italian destroyer Luigi Durand de la Penne were Italian, but they also included 58 Lebanese and 49 Swedes.

Also aboard were 16 Canadians, six Greeks, five Egyptians, five South Africans, three Argentines, two Americans, two Filipinos, two French, one Ghanaian, one Nepali, one Russian, one Swiss and one Ukrainian.

Foreign governments have been scrambling to evacuate nationals from Lebanon since Israeli warplanes bombed Beirut international airport and the main highway to Syria on Thursday, largely cutting off the country from the outside world.