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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Lebanon Britons speak of relief
Maria Noujeim and her children Jessica and Mario disembarking from HMS Gloucester
About 800 evacuees are expected to leave on Wednesday
The first Britons to be evacuated from Lebanon by sea have told of their relief on leaving the conflict zone.

Alan Lane, among 330 evacuees who arrived in Cyprus from Beirut on HMS York, said being trapped with bombs dropping had been "a bad feeling".

Evacuees arrived in the UK on flights on Wednesday night. HMS Gloucester had earlier dropped 180 of them in Cyprus.

Meanwhile, PM Tony Blair has called on Hezbollah to release Israeli soldiers and stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Having served in HMS Illustrious I can tell you, everybody involved will be pulling out all the stops on this one. So get behind them.
Derek Forsyth

Events in Lebanon were tragic and terrible, he told MPs, but if the situation was to stop "it has to stop by undoing how it started".

Israel launched an air offensive on targets in Lebanon last week following the capture of two of its soldiers by Lebanese guerrillas. Hezbollah fighters have been firing hundreds of missiles into northern Israel.

More than 300 Lebanese people - mostly civilians - and 29 Israelis, including 15 civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks, have been killed since the fighting began.

'Shuttle service'

Up to 5,000 Britons will be evacuated to Cyprus over the next few days.

The first of them to reach the UK arrived at Birmingham Airport on Wednesday night.

Samantha Bradley-Hojaij and her two young children had been staying in Beirut for the summer holidays but their apartment had its windows blown out in the fighting.

Heavy damage in southern Lebanon caused by Israel attacks

The worst experience, she said, was "when they were bombing the house; when we tried to leave, the car windows were blown out".

HMS Gloucester and HMS York - both Royal Navy destroyers - will act like a shuttle service between Beirut Port and Cyprus over the next few days.

A third ship, the aircraft carrier Illustrious, which can carry more than 1,000 people, is also being prepared.

Briton Mr Lane, boarding HMS York on Wednesday afternoon, told BBC News: "It's been pretty bad, bombs dropping, planes overhead and heavy artillery.

"I arrived here 10 days ago for a business trip and the day I was leaving they bombed the runway at the airport so I felt I was trapped. That's a pretty bad feeling."

Medical attention

HMS York marine engineer Simon Day, speaking before the ship set sail, said the Britons had been through "a fair ordeal".

"We'll get them on board and get them settled," he told BBC News.

"Those that need medical attention, we can make sure that our medical teams look after them.

Britons and those with dual nationality wanting to leave Lebanon - go to Beirut Forum from 0930 local time on Thursday
Bring travel documents, money/credit cards and one piece of hand luggage
Anyone with larger luggage will be sent home to repack
Non-immediate family or friends who are not British citizens are not allowed
Pets are not allowed
Britons trapped in southern Lebanon should stay put until alternative evacuation arrangements can be made
Can call Foreign Office helpline on 0207 008 1500 or embassy in Beirut on (00) (961) (1) 990400

"We'll get them fed, get them watered, get them settled really for our trip back to Cyprus."

However, not all Britons have been able to flee to safety.

BBC Correspondent Jim Muir, the only UK television journalist in Tyre, southern Lebanon, which has been hit by Israeli air-strikes, said thousands of people were trapped, unable to reach Beirut.

Among the Britons is Carolanne Nehme, from Glasgow, who is on holiday with her husband and nine-month-old baby.

They had gathered for evacuation on the sea front with hundreds of other foreign passport holders but their UN-chartered ferry was forced to turn back as it did not have clearance from the Israeli navy.

Mrs Nehme said: "It's absolute chaos, we're stuck.

"We came here (to the sea front) because we were told to, we were told to get on a boat out of here.

"It's so disappointing, an absolute disaster. It's really inhumane the way they are treating people."

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has said that Britons who want to leave Lebanon should register at the Beirut Forum shopping centre from 0930 on Thursday.

A chartered flight to take evacuees back to the UK - to be paid for by the government - was due to leave from the British base of Akrotiri later on Wednesday night.

But Britons trapped in southern Lebanon should "stay put" until alternative arrangements for evacuation can be arranged, the Foreign Office added.

However, some could stay in Cyprus until tensions between Israel and Lebanon thaw, rather than continuing on to the UK.

Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman will travel to Cyprus on Thursday to review the evacuation operation.

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Evacuated Britons speak of fear in Beirut

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