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WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Readying Plans for Evacuation From Lebanon

July 16, 2006|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Concerned about the fate of Americans potentially stranded in Israel's siege of Lebanon, the Pentagon and State Department are developing plans in case a mass evacuation is necessary, officials said Saturday.

The U.S. was not recommending evacuation yet, however.

"We're at a monitoring point," said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. "We're prepared to respond and provide assistance if required."

The State Department said it was considering ways to help Americans who wished to leave, including somehow getting them to Cyprus. There, they could catch commercial flights out of the region.

However, options were limited, considering Israel's blockade of Lebanon's ports and the military attacks that have left Beirut's airport unusable.

The department said that it was working with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on "options" for Americans who would need assistance to leave but that plans had not been completed.

Officials declined to say whether U.S. forces would provide helicopters or ships to transport people to Cyprus in a mandatory evacuation.

The State Department said it had received reports that Americans fleeing overland to Syria were being denied entry.

Among those trying to leave is Laguna Niguel real estate agent Terence Antonius, 39, who flew to Beirut on July 6 with relatives from New Mexico for a family reunion. His wife, Lynda, who stayed at home with their sons, ages 5 and 10, said he was to have returned home Saturday but was stranded at an aunt's suburban home, awaiting evacuation.

She said that she had spoken with her husband by cellphone and that he was "exhausted and tense." U.S. officials, she said, have told her to be patient.

State Department officials estimate that 25,000 Americans are in Lebanon, including employees of the U.S. government or U.S. firms, travelers and members of ethnically mixed families. It is unknown how many would seek evacuation.

The State Department has provided two phone numbers for general information concerning travel and security in Lebanon: (888) 407-4747 for callers within the United States and (202) 501-4444 for those overseas.

Times staff writer David Haldane in Orange County contributed to this report.

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