Greece, Cyprus help in Lebanon evacuation

The government yesterday said it was sending a navy frigate to Lebanon to help evacuate Greeks living in the country, which has been pounded by Israeli air strikes over the past days, as an Olympic Airlines flight carrying 64 Greeks and 26 foreigners arrived at Athens International Airport from Damascus. The passengers had been driven to the Syrian capital from Beirut whose airport has been damaged by Israeli air strikes and is out of service. The OA aircraft had earlier dropped off 46 Cypriots in Larnaca, Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis said, adding that another OA aircraft was ready to leave for Damascus. Greek planes will continue to conduct special flights to collect Greeks and other foreign nationals who wish to get out of Lebanon, the ministry said. The ministry also announced that it would keep additional navy warships on standby «for the possibility of a mass evacuation of Greek citizens,» of whom there are an estimated 2,500 in Lebanon. France, which has around 20,000 nationals living in Lebanon – a former colony – said it had chartered a Greek cruise ship to evacuate as many French citizens and other Europeans as possible from the strife-torn nation. The Ierapetra, which can carry up to 2,000 passengers, is due to make a stop at Limassol today to collect medical personnel before traveling on to Beirut. Meanwhile, Cyprus has become a key transit point for the evacuees of all nationalities fleeing Lebanon. Yesterday alone, Italian military aircraft flew 350 people to the island, the Cypriot Foreign Ministry said. According to ministry spokesman Giorgos Yiangou, the island was due to receive «hundreds, if not thousands» of foreigners.