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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Mass rescue for Lebanon Britons
An elderly man boards HMS Bulwark in Beirut
The British evacuees will be taken to Limassol in Cyprus
Thousands of British nationals are being evacuated from Lebanon in a massive air and sea operation.

Around 1,300 British evacuees have set sail from Beirut to Cyprus aboard the Royal Navy's HMS Bulwark.

Some who have been trapped in the southern port of Tyre, which has been hit by Israeli air-strikes, are being evacuated on a UN-chartered ferry.

A further 700 people were evacuated on HMS York earlier on Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said.

HMS Illustrious as well as RAF Chinook helicopters, are also helping to take Britons to safety.

The huge commando assault ship HMS Bulwark took hundreds of British evacuees on board at the port in Beirut.

Elderly and frail people boarded the ship first and passports were checked.

Vulnerable

There were emotional scenes at the port as those without UK passports were left behind.

UK FOREIGN OFFICE ADVICE
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

Two young children had to stay because their nanny did not have a UK passport.

Others left family who simply were not British citizens.

HMS Bulwark's captain, Clive Johnstone, told the BBC that there was "a sense of reassurance on board".

HMS York is supporting the operation as it can "sprint ahead", Capt Johnstone said.

Some of the British nationals gathered in Beirut who are considered vulnerable, including the ill and elderly, are also being taken to HMS Illustrious in RAF Chinook helicopters.

Other RAF Chinooks are going directly to Cyprus.

Targeted

About 1,000 British nationals have already been rescued from the Lebanon.

Planes carrying British evacuees have already touched down in the UK.

Chris and Rachel Curry, from Canterbury, left without their parents. Their mother is vice consul at the British Embassy in Beirut.

A boy is held by his mother during the evacuation

Rachel said: "I am very worried about them."

Charles Salmon, 18, was on a flight that returned on Thursday.

He told BBC News he had been in an area targeted by Israeli bombers.

"I've never experienced anything like it before - looking out of your window and seeing smoke rising hundreds of feet into the air, and hearing the explosions, and feeling them in some cases.

"It worries you and it scares you so much to think that any minute a bomb could be going off next to you, or where you are living, or on top of you."

Meanwhile, British nationals in Tyre are being transported out in small boats and taken to the larger ferry anchored offshore, which will then sail to Cyprus.

Chaos

All of those waiting to be evacuated from Tyre had to spend the night out in the open after the initial evacuation was called off late on Wednesday.

Carolanne Nehme, from Glasgow, who is on holiday with her husband and nine-month-old baby, described the scene as "absolute chaos" as they gathered for evacuation on the Tyre sea front.

Any minute a bomb could be going off next to you
Charles Salmon

Meanwhile, the authorities in Britain are preparing for the return of evacuees, with various council teams prepared to meet them at a reception centre in Gatwick Airport.

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.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has appealed for the Israeli government to "act with the utmost restraint".

Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn has announced that the UK will contribute an initial 2m for immediate relief efforts.

Two Royal Navy ships - HMS York and HMS Gloucester - have also previously ferried people to safety.

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