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U.S., European countries work to vacate nationals from Lebanon
"We are looking at how we might transport Americans to Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, Americans can then board commercial aircraft for onward travel," an embassy statement said. The State Department said Friday that Americans in Lebanon should consider leaving when it is safe to do so, and officials made contingency plans for the evacuation of people who cannot leave on their own.
"Our best advice is for people to assess their security situation," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday. "Right now ... from the U.S. government perspective, there aren't any reliable ways to get out by air, land or sea."
The U.S. estimates 25,000 Americans live or work in Lebanon, but U.S. officials assume that far fewer would choose to leave if they could.
Saturday's embassy statement said the State Department was continuing to work "around the clock" with the Defense Department on a plan to help American citizens leave Lebanon safely.
A statement posted on the embassy's Web site on Friday urged Americans in Lebanon to be extremely vigilant and avoid non-essential travel because of the escalating violence in the conflict with Israel.
European nations lined up ferries, buses and airplanes to evacuate thousands of their citizens from Lebanon.
France, which has historic ties to Lebanon and 17,000 citizens residing there, announced plans Saturday to ferry French nationals to Cyprus where Air France flights would be waiting to bring them to Paris. The voluntary evacuations will begin Sunday. In addition to French residents, up to 6,000 other Europeans were estimated to be in Lebanon.
However, France was also clearly preparing for the worst, sending two tactical transport C 160 aircraft with three helicopters to Cyprus as well as a transport vessel with two hospital units and four more helicopters - to leave for the region on Sunday, the Defense Ministry said. The frigate Jean de Vienne was ordered deployed in the eastern Mediterranean. The ministry called the measures "precautionary."
"We want to take all the necessary measures for the security of our citizens," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said at the end of a crisis meeting on Saturday. The government would evaluate the situation in Lebanon "hour by hour," he said. He did not raise the possibility of mandatory evacuations.