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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Evacuees describe Lebanon ordeal
Thousands fleeing the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon have started to arrive in Cyprus. The BBC's Tabitha Morgan met some of them as they disembarked from the Italian warship Luigi Durand de la Penne.

An Italian sailor from the Luigi Durand de la Penne cradles an evacuee
Italian sailors provided a helping hand
Darkness had fallen over Larnaca port when the first ship bringing evacuees from Lebanon docked. The Luigi Durand de la Penne was guided to the quay by a single tug.

Disembarkation of the refugees was delayed while the Italian ambassador was piped on board - a necessary part of naval protocol.

Among the first of the evacuees to step safely onto Cypriot soil were four mothers and their tiny babies.

Italian sailors carrying the infants shielded their heads as they climbed slowly down the narrow gangway to the quayside.

Larnaca port usually receives freight and cargo vessels - the evacuees disembarked amongst cranes, trucks and heavy lifting equipment. It was a slow process.

The passengers looked tense, and it was clear that the horror of what they had witnessed and the pain of saying goodbye to loved ones had taken their toll.

'Worse and worse'

One heavily pregnant woman struggling to reach one of the waiting buses described the last few days as being "the most disgusting and the most frightening of my life".

I didn't want to expose them to all that hatred
Italian woman with children
"I left everything behind, my home, my father, my job, now I have to go and give birth at my grandmother's place in Rome."

A young Italian businessman added: "It's getting worse and worse. The bombs were actually so close that we could see the smoke and the fire. They were extremely loud, the kids were crying, it was very scary."

One woman guiding her two daughters down the gangway said she left because of her children.

French evacuees discuss options as they arrive in Larnaca, Cyprus
A French ship arrived just after sunrise
"I didn't want to expose them to all that hatred," she said. " I'm used to it, we've lived through the civil war in Lebanon, but this is different. I've never seen anything like this."

Gradually, the huddles of Italians and other Europeans who had been ferried out of Beirut by the warship diminished. The evacuees were driven to hotels in Larnaca and other towns for the night.

A few hours later, shortly after sunrise, another ship from Beirut was docking at Larnaca port. This time it was a ferry chartered by France, bringing another 900 to the safety of Cyprus.

Similar scenes will be played out at Larnaca and at the larger port of Limassol in the coming days, with as many as 80,000 foreigners in Lebanon seeking to leave the country.

The challenge for the Cypriot authorities will be to handle the volume of passenger traffic - at the peak of the holiday season when the demand on hotels and other facilities is greatest.

Cyprus is used to providing a safe haven for refugees from Lebanon - it frequently hosted civilians fleeing from the violence during the 15 years of civil war there.

But never has it had to deal with such a sudden demand and on such a large scale.

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