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Mass of Lebanon evacuees pours into Cyprus, Turkey

Written by: Staff
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LARNACA, Cyprus, July 23 (Reuters) Thousands of people fleeing Israeli bombing in Lebanon poured into Cyprus today in a flood of evacuees that showed no sign of slowing.

Hundreds of foreigners sailed to the Turkish port of Mersin as Turkey stepped in to share the burden with Cypriots struggling to cope with the influx during a busy tourist season.

''It's the biggest Australian evacuation since the Second World War,'' Australian ambassador to Turkey Jean Dunn told Reuters, adding her country expected to take out 6,000 or more of its 20,000 citizens in Lebanon this week.

Over 3,000, mostly Canadian, Australian and US evacuees have arrived at Mersin, welcomed by Red Crescent workers.

''The boat we were on was really quick, just up and down the whole way. Everyone was vomiting throughout the whole trip.

Everyone was delirious and tired, everyone wants to go home,'' Illyas Rizkallah, 20, a Lebanese-Australian student said.

''The first couple of days around where we were there was non-stop shelling, bombing. I haven't slept for the last nine days. I left my family behind there -- my aunt and family. I didn't want to,'' he said.

Cyprus was taking in 8,000 more people today alone, adding to the mass evacuation that has already brought to the island more than 25,000 people from dozens of countries.

The total may rise to 70,000, a big strain for the Mediterranean island at the height of its tourist season, and the European Union has pledged to help its member state.

Overnight, more than 1,000 weary Canadians walked ashore in the sticky Cypriot summer heat. Women tried to pacify screaming infants as they queued to enter a cramped reception centre.

EVACUEES POUR IN A further 15 vessels are expected to bring in more French, Canadian, American and Indian evacuees until early tomorrow.

''Thank God they brought us here,'' said tearful Australian Jacqueline Azzi, travelling with her husband and two children.

''It felt like forever. We were living from hour to hour.'' Two ships carrying nearly 2,000 Americans docked in Limassol, adding to the nearly 8,000 the Pentagon said had already been evacuated from Lebanon via Cyprus and Turkey.

Many Americans were still stuck at a makeshift camp in a fairground in the Cypriot capital Nicosia awaiting charter flights home.

By contrast, an estimated 5,000 British evacuees passing through the British air force base at Akrotiri in southern Cyprus were swiftly processed and flown home.

''The state of the people coming through has got worse with time.

One man came through without shoes. We gave another man a toothbrush and he just burst into tears,'' said Olivia Draper, one of several British volunteers helping out at the base.

British officials said the final 300 British evacuees would leave for Britain on a charter flight today, wrapping up their official maritime evacuation.

''I hope they can do something for the people who are still there (in Lebanon) to get them out. I cannot believe they would just leave them there,'' said volunteer Ann MacDougall, a pensioner from Wiltshire who lives in Cyprus.

Not every one was fleeing Lebanon. Hulie Zide, 45, was one of dozens of Lebanese heading back to their country today aboard a French-chartered boat.

''I love my country. I have my job, I have my mom and dad, my family. I have to work and I have to support them,'' said Zide, who had been on holiday in Paris when the war started. ''I am not afraid of dying under their bombs.'' As the ship approached Beirut, a group of Lebanese held hands in a circle of prayer, led by Father Magdi El-Alawi.

''I was praying for God to help Lebanon,'' the Catholic priest said.

REUTERS MQA RN2222

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