Marines Helping With Evacuation in Beirut

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 20, 2006; 6:12 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- U.S. Marines ferried 1,200 Americans from a Beirut beach to the USS Nashville on Thursday _ the first Marine operation in Lebanon in more than two decades.

A chartered cruise ship make its second voyage to Cyprus, carrying 1,000 more Americans, and helicopters flew some people directly to the Mediterranean island, speeding the departure of U.S. citizens and other foreigners from Lebanon in the face of Israeli bombardment.

"We didn't expect to have to leave like this," said Hasan Zaydon, a 13-year-old American who had hoped to spend the summer with relatives in the southern city of Sidon. Asked what he would tell friends, he said: "I'll tell them I lived through a war."

Some 25,000 foreigners have fled Lebanon since Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid last week, setting off the Israeli offensive. Hezbollah has responded to the Israeli attacks by raining rockets onto the Jewish state.

Thousands of foreigners, some sitting on curbstones with shirts draped over their heads against the blazing Mediterranean sun, waited all day to leave.

It was the first time U.S. Marines on combat duty had set foot in Beirut since deadly attacks in 1983 and 1984 on the Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy annex. About 325 people, mostly Americans, died in those bombings, which were blamed on militants linked to Hezbollah. The Shiite guerrilla group has always denied involvement.

"It's like going to see the Colosseum in Rome _ I'm exploring my history as a Marine, being here where all my fellow Marines died," said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Miniard, 21, of Cincinnati as he helped Americans board the Orient Queen.

The cruise ship _ equipped with a duty-free shop, gourmet restaurant and beauty salon _ normally carries up to 800 vacationers on Mediterranean cruises.

"We were expecting to have to row boats to Cyprus, so this is amazing," joked Nawal Zahzah, 16, of Long Beach, Calif.

"There is a guilt feeling about leaving," said Ann Shebbo, a U.S. citizen who lives in the United Arab Emirates. "The Lebanese people should not suffer this way."

Many of those leaving expressed frustration at the pace of the evacuation.

"I never thought I'd live to see Canada treat people like this," said Zeinab Farhat, 46, of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who waited in line for nearly 10 hours Thursday without learning whether she would be able to depart.

"I keep thinking I'll wake up from this horrible dream," she said, crying.

Both the Orient Queen and the Nashville, an amphibious transport dock, headed to Cyprus, with the cruise ship making its second voyage there in as many days. In addition, American helicopters shuttled as many a 200 people a day _ humanitarian and high-risk health cases _ to the island from the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. officials said more than 8,000 of the roughly 25,000 Americans who live or work in Lebanon will be evacuated by the weekend.

Amid complaints the U.S. effort had lagged, American officials made clear that fears about Americans traveling on roads in Beirut, especially at night, and to Syria had led to some of the delays.

Most foreigners are leaving by sea, as the overland route to Syria was deemed to be too dangerous and Israel knocked Beirut's airport out of service last week by bombing its runways.

© 2006 The Associated Press