More Australians evacuated

Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Lyndall Sachs, said the number of Australians registered with the Australian embassy in Beirut had grown to several hundred, prompting the federal government to resume its rescue operation.

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Ms Sachs said they had chartered a ship to evacuate citizens who made it from southern Lebanon to Beirut during a lull in fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

But the ferry leaving about 3pm local time (2200 AEST) will probably be the last one chartered by the Australian government.

Thirty Australians who escaped from towns along the Lebanese border with Israel on Tuesday will be leaving on the ferry.

She said there were still many Australians who remained in the country’s south.

“There were a large number of people down south about whom we had very serious concerns, and we still have serious concerns about those people,” Ms Sachs told ABC radio.

“We think that we have around about 170 Australians in the south of Lebanon who have been unable to depart.”

The ferry could be the last vessel chartered by the government, as hostilities intensify in Lebanon after a 48-hour limited reprieve on Israeli air bombardments expires.

Ms Sachs said there were many Australians who had chosen to remain behind in Lebanon because they had no family or support in Australia.

“It is a very difficult and traumatic situation for these people,” she said.

“To up sticks even when it seems very difficult here, and to go back to a country where they may not necessarily have family or community support, can be quite a challenge for them.

“It’s a tough decision for these people to make and I can understand why people have deferred it until it becomes impossible for them to stay.”

Ms Sachs said the rescue operation had been difficult from the start because Australia did not have resources in the area.

“We don’t have the assets in the region that many other countries do,” she said.

“So obviously we weren’t able to gear things up as quickly as countries who do have large military assets in the region were able to do so.”

She said they were also hampered by competition for buses and boats to help evacuate the Australians from the area.

“It was the competition for the scarcest resources, really that was our biggest challenge,” she said.

“Prices skyrocketed … a bus normally costs about $US350 ($A460) to hire and we were quoted prices of up to $US10,000 ($A13,100) a bus.”

Ms Sachs, who took up the role as ambassador three-and-a-half months ago, said the Australian embassy would remain open for as long as it possibly could.