American Evacuation Teams Arrive in Lebanon
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – U.S. security teams arrived by helicopter Sunday at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to start planning the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon.
Witnesses said two helicopters flew over the Mediterranean and landed on the embassy grounds, located on a fortified hilltop in the north Beirut suburb of Aukar.
“The arrival of the teams is an important first step in facilitating the safe departure of Americans who want to leave Lebanon,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
It said the teams would arrange for “secure transportation for American citizens who wish to depart Lebanon.” There are an estimated 25,000 Americans living or working in Lebanon. U.S. officials said they assume that only a small number will choose to leave.
“We obviously have plans and contingency plans should we need to bring people out,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at the Group of Eight summit in Russia. “I get reports on this every couple of hours as to how this is going. Our ambassador who is on the ground will obviously do what we need to protect Americans.”
About 350 people _ most of them Europeans _ were evacuated Saturday night and early Sunday from Lebanon to the neighboring island of Cyprus aboard Italian military flights. The United States has said Americans also would be evacuated from Lebanon to Cyprus.
Israeli airstrikes have closed down Beirut’s international airport and targeted the main highway to neighboring Syria. Israel also imposed a naval blockade on Lebanon.
The State Department said Friday that Americans in Lebanon should consider leaving when it was safe. Officials made contingency plans to evacuate people who cannot leave on their own. Family members and non-emergency American employees of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon have been given permission to leave.
Israel began striking Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid Wednesday. The guerrillas have struck back at Israeli cities, and on Sunday fired a barrage of rockets into the northern Israeli city of Haifa, escalating the conflict.