Aid heads for Lebanon as refugees leave

Greece began sending humanitarian aid to Lebanon yesterday as the evacuation of Greeks and other Westerners from Beirut to Cyprus picked up the pace, forcing Nicosia to ask its European Union partners to help move on the refugees that have been collecting on the island. A C-130 military cargo plane yesterday morning left Elefsina airport, west of Athens, for Larnaca, where the aid, including some 2 tons of medicine and 2,000 blankets, was transferred to a ship bound for Beirut. The aid was collected with the help of three non-governmental organizations and the Foreign Ministry said that a second C-130 followed later carrying more supplies destined for Lebanon, where it is estimated that half a million people have been displaced. Greece is one of the first countries to send aid to Beirut. Along with Cyprus, Greece has also played a vital role in helping people to flee Lebanon. «Everyone should realize that Cyprus and Greece are truly factors of stability and cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean,» said Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis, who flew in the first C-130 to Larnaca. However, the buildup of thousands of refugees in Cyprus prompted Nicosia to request that other countries speed up efforts to get their citizens home from the island. «We won’t provide long-term accommodation. We will try for the accommodation to last for a few hours and only when necessary. This is why we’ve asked that a significant number of aircraft be put at our disposal,» Cypriot Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas said. Kassimis backed his call. The Foreign Ministry said that through yesterday it had coordinated five operations to evacuate 1,700 people from Lebanon, 500 of whom were Greeks. The ministry said 27 more Greeks are due to be evacuated today. More than 30 countries as well as the United Nations have asked for help from Greece in getting their citizens out of Lebanon. France, Sweden and Denmark have also hired Greek merchant ships to assist with their evacuation efforts. The ministry said that Greek ferries that are already in the area would remain there to meet any needs that arise in the coming days.