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Last Updated: Monday, 17 July 2006, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Britons describe Lebanon ordeal
Tony Lteif
Tony Lteif said he fled because he wanted to see his family
A British woman has described her husband's ordeal of fleeing Lebanon in a crowded taxi to escape the air attacks from Israel.

Nina Lteif said her husband Tony spent hundreds of pounds on a taxi to travel from Beirut to Syria.

He described his experience as "scary, horrendous - get me out of here alive".

The British government has said that driving to the border is not advisable and advised people to wait for a "structured evacuation".

But Mr Lteif and his wife, Nina, said a lack of guidance from the British embassy forced him to plan his own escape.

It was just wait and see, wait and see. We are going to broadcast something on TV. We'll tell you when we're going to get you out - and it never happened
Tony Lteif

Mrs Lteif said: "Nobody wants to help you. The British embassy....all they are saying is, 'Stay put.' Nobody points you in the right direction. So all I was doing was worrying"

And Mr Lteif, who said he took a risk to see his family and shared the taxi with strangers, added: "The main issue was the time scale. There was no time scale.

"It was just wait and see, wait and see. We are going to broadcast something on TV. We'll tell you when we're going to get you out - and it never happened."

'Desperate people'

He said the border was a place where desperate people were pleading or bribing.

Nada Saba contacted BBC News to say her sister, two-year-old nephew and father, who all have dual Lebanese and British citizenship, were among those stranded in Beirut.

As the child had only his British passport and no Lebanese papers, they would not even be able to escape by road into Syria and were entirely dependent on a British evacuation, she said.

Obviously if 22,000 people try calling the embassy that is going to cause problems
Foreign Office

Ms Saba said the response of the British embassy had been "appalling", leaving Britons in Lebanon feeling "cut off".

She said Foreign Office advise to stay in touch with the embassy had proved hard to follow as it had been impossible to get through to it by phone.

"When my sister finally did get through she got an answer phone message saying that the embassy is closed until tomorrow."

She said many people had fled to the mountains where they had no TV or internet access, making it hard for them to listen for broadcast advice.

She added: "There is also a sense in Lebanon - and I have heard this from a few of my British-Lebanese friends - that as the majority of the approximate 10,000 Brits in Lebanon are actually dual citizens (and 'ethnically', or 'originally' Lebanese) the response is not as quick or thorough as it would be if they were solely British."

Extra staff

A Foreign Office spokesman said the embassy was doing everything it could to help British citizens.

He said extra staff had been sent from the UK to bolster the workforce of the small Beirut embassy and that they were working "flat out, 24 hours a day" in "very difficult and trying circumstances" to help British citizens in Lebanon and plan for an evacuation.

He said the Foreign Office was aware of problems contacting the embassy by phone but he denied that the embassy had closed.

"Obviously if 22,000 people try calling the embassy that is going to cause problems."

He urged people to stay in touch via the Foreign Office and embassy websites and listen to English language broadcasts, advising those with no access to media to phone someone who did have access.

But he said it was simply not possible for staff to call the 22,000 British citizens in Lebanon individually to check on them.

He also denied people with dual nationality were being dealt with differently than had they been solely British.

"Most of the time we wouldn't even know if somebody had another nationality. If someone has a British passport, they are a British citizen, end of story."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Mobile phone footage of Tony Lteif's journey from Lebanon



SEE ALSO
Scot speaks of Beirut experience
17 Jul 06 |  Glasgow and West

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