NEWS

Cyprus becomes hub for UN aid shipments to war-torn Lebanon

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus said yesterday that it had overcome the worst of the mass exodus from war-torn Lebanon, helping almost 55,000 evacuees, and its role had now switched to sending humanitarian supplies to the devastated country. At the peak of the multinational air and sea evacuation from Lebanon, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) away, Cyprus strained under the burden of arrivals which coincided with the height of the Mediterranean island’s holiday season. Of the 54,285 people who have fled the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, only 400 remain on the island. These are mostly Canadians who arrived earlier Friday and will leave over the weekend. According to Foreign Ministry figures, the evacuees came from 75 countries, with the bulk, 22,000, being EU nationals, while a combined 20,000 came from America, Canada and Australia, plus 3,000 from India. A total of 92 people are stranded in Cyprus after being rescued in the US evacuation. Although most of them have US passports, some of their family do not and have failed to obtain a visa, or their case is pending. There are 14 so-called «problematic» cases that are holding the others back. The US Embassy says it is working with the government to resolve the matter. «The country responsible for bringing these people to the island is also responsible for taking them out,» Cypriot Foreign Ministry official Alexandros Zenon told reporters during an assessment of the evacuation so far. The next batch of arrivals on Cyprus is due on Monday, when the French helicopter carrier Mistral is expected to bring around 1,500 people to Larnaca port. «Cyprus is expected to become the biggest hub for shipping humanitarian aid to Beirut once we get up and running,» a UN logistics official told AFP. The UN has begun using Cyprus as a base for getting aid into Lebanon. A Portuguese C-130 transport plane carrying several tons of medical supplies and high-energy biscuits started flying out of Larnaca airport yesterday and will do so for the next four days. The UN hopes to launch its first shipment of humanitarian aid from Cyprus by next week with the deployment of the 3,000-ton capacity Anamcara ro-ro vessel from August 12.