But British response to evacuation crisis criticised

The first Britons to be evacuated from war-torn Lebanon by sea arrived in Cyprus early this morning. Royal Navy destroyer HMS Gloucester shipped 180 UK nationals, many of them women and children, out of the country a week after violent Israeli bombardments began in capital city Beirut. Foreign Office staff and immigration officials flown over from the UK were waiting on the dockside in Limassol, Cyprus to greet the evacuees after their 11-hour voyage.

Also at the dock was Peter Millett, the British High Commissioner in Cyprus, who defended claims that the British had been slow to respond to the situation and begin their evacuation effort. Unfavourable comparisons have been made with other European countries; the French chartered a civilian ferry to evacuate an estimated 1,500 nationals out of Lebanon on Monday. Mr Millet said that the British response to what has been described as ‘the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk’ had been well-thought out:

‘This is an effort that has been based on safety and security. We have a duty of care towards our citizens. We did not want to rush bringing out British citizens until we knew we could do it safely.’

An estimated 5,000 Britons are thought to want to leave Lebanon, where civilian casualties are mounting as Israeli warplanes continue their attack, which follows the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanese guerillas last week. A second Type 42 destroyer, HMS York is expected to ship more British evacuees to Cyprus later today. Mr Millet said that the two destroyers would shuttle between Cyprus and Beirut for as long as they were needed.