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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2006, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
UK citizens anxious over Lebanon
Lebanon has been bombed for several nights by Israel, in retaliation for the capture of two soldiers by Hezbollah.

Two Royal Navy ships have been put on standby for an evacuation of British nationals but while ministers and defence staff are considering a plan, no order for an evacuation has yet been given.

Britons trapped in Lebanon and relatives tell of their anxiety amid Israeli air and artillery attacks.

ANDREA KOWALSKI, 39, A FREELANCE BBC PRODUCER ON HOLIDAY

Andrea Kowalski and her husband were in Lebanon for a friend's wedding and to visit relatives.

"We already knew that the Palestinians had taken a soldier. When we heard Hezbollah had taken two soldiers we knew there would be some retaliation."

On Wednesday she and her husband travelled to the south of the country in the Jezzine area, near the city of Sidon.

"We were there when we heard there had been bombing in south Lebanon, and we started to receive text messages saying please return to Beirut."

They did, and the following day Israeli warplanes hit the Beirut airport runways, setting fuel tanks ablaze. Early Thursday morning Mrs Kowalski said she and her husband heard Israeli jets flying over Beirut, bombing. Later she found out a southern suburb had been bombed.

"We started trying to work out what we'd do.... there was already a lot of movement in the country with people crossing the border. A friend of ours was already trying to leave the country when the airport was hit."

That's where we started seeing thousands of people trying to cross the border

They learned Israeli naval ships had started a blockade off Lebanese waters.

A call to the Venezuelan embassy - Mrs Kowalski was born in Venezuela - led to them deciding to drive north into Syria via the port city of Tripoli. At that stage, Tripoli had not been bombed by Israeli planes.

They made their way to the border crossing point at Abboudiye in a rental car. The driver dropped them off about 1km from the border.

"That's where we started seeing thousands of people trying to cross the border, with children and babies, in the terrible heat - we've described the exodus as biblical."

She said she believed many of the people trying to cross were Syrians who had been working in Lebanon.

She said the situation at the border was compounded because the Syrian authorities could not cope with the numbers of people crossing. Some were left waiting 11 hours for visas. The state bank at the border ran out of money needed to purchase the entry visa at official rates.

She and her husband flew out of Damascus on Saturday morning - and said she thought a group of Spanish people were flown out on a plane chartered by the Spanish government.

She said she wants to know why the British government has not organised such a flight. Her 77-year-old mother-in-law, a British national, is currently in a village east of Beirut waiting to be evacuated.

SUSANNAH GRAHAM, 32, A UN VOLUNTEER WORKING IN BEIRUT

Susannah Graham, from Brighton, had been working in Beirut for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) working in a Palestinian refugee camp.

She had initially been told that because she was not a full-time aid staff member of the UN she would not be eligible for evacuation.

"I am covered by the British Embassy, however," she said. "I'm confident if they come I will be evacuated, but I have Australian friends who are not so lucky."

Ms Graham had been living in the south-east of Beirut, near areas controlled by Hezbollah. After the attacks started she fled to a Christian village in the hills north of Beirut.

She said it was not near any Hezbollah strongholds but that it was a "fallacy that Israel is attacking only Hezbollah strongholds. They have attacked the harbour in Jounieh, it's a port, in a Christian area".

She said where she had fled to "there's nothing here to bomb" but said she was still afraid because she felt nowhere was safe.

The rumour is the Israelis are going to bomb the roads to the north

From the window of the apartment she was staying at, she said she could see all of the city, and said plumes of smoke were still rising form the bombed fuel tanks at Beirut airport.

"The rumour is the Israelis are going to bomb the roads to the north. I think people are desperate to go but you need to be a bit sensible."

She said people felt the situation was going to get worse after Hezbollah rockets killed eight Israelis in an attack on the city of Haifa.

She said she felt countries with influence over Israel had not done enough to try and force a ceasefire.

"I just wish those people that could exert pressure on Israeli and haven't could stay here for a night and see what it's like - Tony Blair and his family," she said.

JOLIE BOYLE, DJ, STAYING IN BEIRUT

Jolie Boyle had travelled to the Lebanese capital to DJ. She said she had heard of trouble on Lebanon's Israeli border, but did not realise how serious the situation was until she got a text from her parents.

"The British Embassy aren't doing anything about it, and if I wait around for them, I don't know how long I'm going to be here. I'm on my own, it's lonely. My family's worried about me, everyone wants to know what's happening."

Last night I was on the verge of going up to Syria, but it's just too dangerous

She said she found the situation "really terrifying" and had heard "loads" of explosions.

"Outside the hotel there's a telecommunications tower and they've bombed that a couple of times."

She said the embassy said "we just recommended you stay in your hotel and just wait".

She said she would "definitely" leave on a British warship if she was able to.

"Last night I was on the verge of going up to Syria, but it's just too dangerous. I would prefer to stay here if takes them [British warships] a couple of days.

"But the two missiles that hit the tower last night could have hit my hotel."

NATALYA ADAMS, 24, STUDENT STUDYING AT THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN BEIRUT

Natalya Adams, who is from Brixton in south London, has been studying at Beirut's American University in a six-week summer course.

She said: "We can see the ships and hear the firing. The lighthouse is only two miles down the road. Where we are is supposed to be the safest place in Beirut. There's not really any targets around here and we're on American-owned land."

Israeli leaflets on the pitch of the American University (Pic: Adelaide Byrum)
Israeli leaflets landed on the football pitch of the university (Pic: Adelaide Byrum)

She said the university had planned to drive students to Amman in Jordan on Sunday but had called it off.

"The roads are too dangerous. The bombings have intensified in the north. The Israelis are targeting every road out of Beirut.

"The bombing of Beirut has intensified too, it's getting more frequent. There's been a lot of shelling. They were really bombing during the day and all through the night.

"They are not just bombing Hezbollah strongholds - they are bombing for the sake of bombing," she said.

"They are trying to destroy Lebanese infrastructure."

She said that on Saturday the Israelis had dropped canisters containing propaganda leaflets and that one, which failed to explode, had hit the football pitch of the university.

DIDI SABBAGH, 54, LIVES IN LEBANON

Tony Gray, who lives in New Forest in Hampshire, is worried about his sister Didi Sabbagh, 54, her Lebanese husband and her two children, who are in Beirut.

Her family had been living in Gabon in West Africa and only returned to live in Lebanon about a year ago because they thought it was safe.

She phoned us up and said the Israelis had bombed the road to Damascus. She is literally stuck. It is terrifying

Didi sent her brother an e-mail on Saturday evening saying: "The seafront has been shelled and I run there every morning - just a 10-minute jog away.

"It was so close that all the car alarms were set off and the windows shook.

"And there's just been an enormous explosion whilst I've been in this cyber cafe.

"I am still shaking whilst typing this so I may not come tomorrow as it's getting a bit scary."

She said if the shelling got any worse, she hoped to take a boat to Cyprus and fly back to the UK.

But Mr Gray said that plan might not be possible.

He said: "She phoned us up and said the Israelis had bombed the road to Damascus. She is literally stuck. It is terrifying."

On Sunday she wrote again saying it had been a "relatively quiet day".

Her e-mail said there had been shelling in the southern suburbs overnight.

"We were all on our balconies, it was a beautiful night, cool breeze, jasmine in the air.......& then we'd be brought back to earth with first the sound of a plane, then a flash & then a boom."

PERRY JONES, 16, STUDENT FROM SHROPSHIRE

Peter Jones said he was "worried to death" about his 16-year-old son Perry, who is visiting Lebanon to see his aunt and uncle during his school holidays before returning to the UK to study for his A Levels. Mr Jones, from Wellington in Shropshire, said his son had gone to a village near Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

I think my son is a little bit shell-shocked. He hasn't seen anything like this before
"Initially they were seeing news of the trouble on the telly, but in the last few days they have been seeing war-planes flying over, and the Israelis have been bombing Tripoli.

"When the planes get too close, they go into the bomb shelter they built in the basement of their house.

"My wife's sister is married to a Lebanese man. They have lived there for years - it's sad to say, but they are used to it.

"I think my son is a little bit shell-shocked. He hasn't seen anything like this before."

Mr Jones said he had registered his son's details with the British embassy in Beirut, but they had not given him any useful advice.

"They are not saying anything. We have been contacting my son and then relaying messages back to them."

He said he was worried his son would eventually have to make his way out of the area using bomb-damaged, dangerous roads.

SCHONA JOLLY, 31, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER FROM LONDON

Schona Jolly's 29-year-old brother, Rushee, told how his sister went on a short holiday to Beirut with her friend - who has a six-month-old child with her.

"She's a French speaker, loves Islamic art and tends to travel to fairly obscure places anyway.

They told her to sit tight when the place where she was being shelled

"But she literally only went to Beirut for a week, and they were intending to leave for Greece on Tuesday - but that won't be happening now because they've bombed the airfield."

He told how his sister, who is from London, had left Beirut because the area was too close to the shelling.

She is now staying in a village near the capital, along with about 20 other UK citizens.

Mr Jolly said he didn't think the British government was doing enough to help.

"We feel that the embassy in Beirut is doing nothing, and that the advise they are giving is pretty poor.

"They told her to sit tight when the place where she was being shelled."

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  • BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
    Hear from some of the people trying to escape Beirut



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