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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Family flees Middle East violence
Andy and Fiona Gleeson
Fiona Gleeson had joined her husband Andy for a holiday
A family from Scotland have told of travelling little used back roads to avoid helicopter gunships as they fled the fighting in Lebanon.

Andy and Fiona Gleeson, from Inverness, and their two young daughters are in Cyprus after a week holed up in Beirut.

Mr Gleeson, a former soldier, avoided the main routes north from where they had been staying in Nabatiyeh, close to the Israeli border.

They were evacuated to Cyprus on a Royal Navy warship on Thursday morning.

Speaking to BBC Scotland from the Mediterranean island, the couple told of their fears of being isolated in the heavily bombed south of Lebanon and concerns for the safety of their daughters.

I was hanging out washing on the balcony and the next minute there was an almighty bang
Fiona Gleeson

Mrs Gleeson, Christina, four, and two-year-old Bethany had planned to spend a month in Lebanon where Mr Gleeson was working for a landmine clearing charity.

She told how a week spent sunbathing, relaxing in their accommodation and visiting sites around Nabatiyeh was shattered on 12 July.

Mrs Gleeson, who is originally from Glasgow, said: "I was hanging out washing on the balcony and the next minute there was an almighty bang.

"The house was shuddering and I asked Andy what it was when another two bombs came in."

Mr Gleeson's Lebanese staff said the crisis would blow over quickly, but he became concerned by reports of key bridges out of the region being blown up.

He said: "After some more bombing in the vicinity of Nabatiyeh we took the decision it was probably too dangerous to stay.

"The bridge structure was being targeted and I didn't want us to become isolated."

'Frightening experience'

The family travelled by road, but what should have been a 40-minute journey to Beirut in the north stretched to two hours.

Mr Gleeson said: "There were reports of Israeli gunships off the coast and I was concerned there may be attacks there so we drove over some older roads, which took considerably longer."

In Beirut, the Gleesons spent a week waiting for news of their turn to be evacuated by the British armed forces to Cyprus in the Mediterranean.

Birmingham-born Mr Gleeson, who works for the Mine Advisory Group (MAG), said his family coped the best they could during their time cooped up in a hotel room.

He said: "I was in the forces, but I've never been bombed before. It was frightening.

"It's been tiring and frustrating living in a hotel room for a week. It was a little bit tense at times.

"Bethany, our youngest who will be three in September, was a bit more oblivious to it all, but Christina, who's five next February, was aware and would ask 'is that the bombs?'."

Mrs Gleeson said: "It was a very frightening experience.

"When I took the girls out to Lebanon it was a safe and beautiful place to go to. It was amazing how quickly the region was destroyed."

She added: "I was very worried for the safety of the children."

Lebanese staff

They were transported from Beirut by HMS Gloucester, one of the Royal Navy warships sent to the region.

The family plan to return to Inverness soon.

Meanwhile, Mr Gleeson continues to keep in touch with his Lebanese staff by phone.

He said: "I just hope there is a ceasefire soon and I hope to get back in there as fast as possible."

The couple have been watching anxiously news of the fighting from the calm of a property owned by MAG on the holiday island.

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