Royal Navy sent to evacuate Britons in Lebanon

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The Independent Online

A foreign office minister said that evacuation plans to get up to 10,000 British nationals out of Lebanon were in full swing last night.

But Kim Howells warned the operation was going to "take some doing" and that two Royal Navy ships heading to the Middle East, HMS Illustrious and HMS Bulwark, were not expected to arrive before Wednesday.

The Foreign Office advised British nationals against all travel to Lebanon, where five days of Israeli bombing have shut down the airport and damaged the main road from Beirut to the Syrian capital Damascus. The estimated 10,000 Britons in Lebanon were told to stay put, but were advised to " get ready for departure at short notice should the situation change".

France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, hired a Greek cruise ship to rescue French citizens. An estimated 17,000 French residents live in Lebanon and a further 4,000 to 5,000 are visiting the country.

Officials said yesterday that Italian C-130 military transport planes brought out 350 Spaniards, Italians, Austrians, Czechs and Irish, to Cyprus's Larnaca airport. The Greek government chartered an Olympic Airways plane, which landed with about 140 Greeks and Cypriots on board. US security teams are preparing to evacuate Americans.