U.S. Marines move Americans out of Lebanon

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Marines back in country for first time since 1984
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

U.S. Marines carried toddlers and helped families and tourists in wheelchairs onto a boat that whisked them to a warship off the coast of Beirut, helping hundreds of Americans escape from Lebanon on Thursday.

About 40 Marines escorted evacuees to a landing craft that shuttled back and forth between the port of Beirut and the USS Nashville, which will take the evacuees to Cyprus.

As boats arrived in Cyprus, the evacuee population there mushroomed. About 1,000 Americans arrived early Thursday on board a chartered cruise ship, and ships from other Western countries delivered hundreds of evacuees.

On Thursday morning, the first group of American evacuees to make it back to the United States arrived in Baltimore, Maryland.

The scene in Beirut was dramatically different from 1984, when Marines left en masse from Lebanon, a few months after a 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut killed 241 Marines…

     

This time around, Marines were helping families, some with babies in strollers, and others evacuate. Crowds of people leaving Lebanon trudged from the beach through shallow water and up the ramp of a landing craft, lugging suitcases and backpacks.

On board the USS Nashville, the first groups to arrive tried to relax, sitting on cots and listening to music.

Children played on the deck and talked to sailors and Marines, while older people tried to nap.

The Navy hoped to ferry 1,200 Americans onto the Nashville by Thursday night.

On the southern Lebanese border Thursday, intense clashes erupted between Israeli special forces and Hezbollah guerrillas, as fierce fighting in the region entered its ninth day. (Full story)

No plans have been made yet for the several hundred Americans in southern Lebanon, the area Israeli troops entered Tuesday.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said Wednesday that the State Department will move them when it’s “safe and prudent … we’re always going to err on the side of caution.”

Marine officials did not speak at length about the security measures in place for the evacuation, but the Marines were all armed and U.S. Navy combat boats were constantly circling the area.(Watch why the Navy isn’t taking any chances with securing the evacuations — 1:45)

U.S. officials said the Marines are in Beirut only to help Americans and to engage in a humanitarian mission. They will leave as soon as the evacuees are on board.

Six transport helicopters are also carrying those evacuees in the most need — such as urgent medical cases and children — the 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to Cyprus.

The State Department estimates about 25,000 Americans are in Lebanon. It’s not clear how many of them want to leave.

More than 1,000 Americans left Wednesday, most of them aboard the 1,000-capacity Greek cruise ship Orient Queen, the first of several chartered ships and military vessels that will form a sea bridge to Cyprus. It arrived in the Cypriot port of Larnaca early Thursday. (Watch as Cyprus is once again a refuge — 1:50)

“We expect [the Orient Queen] to be a stalwart over the next couple of days,” running between Beirut and Larnaca, Harty said.

Two more civilian ships are scheduled to arrive Friday in Beirut: the Saudi-owned, Panamanian-flagged Ramah, with a capacity of up to 1,400; and the Vittoria M., an Italian vessel that can carry about 330.

The first charter flight from Cyprus landed at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport early Thursday with about 140 evacuees on board.

Harty again urged Americans in Lebanon and those with family there to contact the Embassy or the department to register for evacuation. She said although people who show up on the Beirut docks without being registered will be put on ships, registering ahead will guarantee a berth.

A senior defense official told CNN on Wednesday that the military is considering using teams of Marines aboard helicopters to retrieve Americans who are stuck in remote parts of Lebanon. The official stressed that nothing has been decided.

Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, told CNN that one reason he is moving the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Lebanon is to give him the ability to get Americans out of other parts of Lebanon, if necessary.

“The idea is that we have the capability to extract people, no matter where their location is,” Walsh said.

Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the on-scene commander will have “absolute flexibility to execute his mission in a very dynamic situation.”

Missions into remote parts of Lebanon could mean flying over areas held by Hezbollah.


http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/20/lebanon.evacuation/

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