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Thousands Evacuate Lebanon Amid Fighting
Zeina Karam and Hamza Hendawi, The Associated Press
July 18, 2006, 5:39 PM PDT
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A cruise ship sailed into Beirut late Tuesday to begin shuttling thousands of Americans to safety from Mideast fighting, amid fierce criticism that the U.S. effort had lagged behind Europe's.
The commander of the Fifth Fleet said the ship would begin boarding evacuees at dawn.
"We're trying to move quickly, trying to move large numbers of people as fast as we can," said Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, the top U.S. naval officer in the Middle East. A larger commercial vessel also would be used, he said. A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. government was considering hiring as many as four more cruise ships to carry Americans.
Thousands of Europeans already have fled the country, which is under fierce Israeli air attack.
Earlier in the day, 320 Americans, mostly children, students and the elderly, left by military helicopter and a European ship. U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman told The Associated Press more than 1,000 Americans would depart Wednesday.
The White House defended asking Americans to reimburse the estimated $150 cost of their passage, and the ambassador said the evacuation's slow start was intended to safeguard Americans