'Why is there not a murmur of protest from Washington?'

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Outside the cavernous US government-run holding centre in Nicosia, Mohammed Shami shook his head. "I feel embarrassed to be an American. They have given Israel the green light to destroy Lebanon. What they are doing is wrong; it is immoral."

Mr Shami, who is of Lebanese-American descent, arrived here with 1,000 fellow Americans early yesterday, part of the exodus to Cyprus expected to reach more than 80,000 people fleeing the ferocity of the conflict in Lebanon.

For Mr Shami and others from the successful and settled Lebanese community in the US the relief at escaping the violence is mixed with deep feelings of anger and guilt at the actions of their government.

"My father is of Lebanese birth and my mother is American", said Mr Shami, a 21-year-old student from Michigan. " I am very proud of my mother and the American people. All I can say is that most American people are not like Condoleezza Rice, they are not like George Bush; they have a sense of decency."

There are 25,000 US nationals in Lebanon and they will arrive in Cyprus at 2,000 a day. The 2,300-strong 24th Marine Expeditionary Force is offshore with assault ships and destroyers. The purported reason for such a heavy military presence is to "help the civic powers" in the evacuation. But US diplomats privately acknowledge fear of an attack by Hizbollah. The first batch of Americans who came, on chartered ferry, the Orient Queen, are staying at the International State Fair complex in Nicosia, two huge halls with 1,152 orange camp-beds.

For many, the 10-hour journey out was fraught. More than 100 had forced their way out of the ship at the port of Larnaca after waiting more than an hour in stifling heat. Some objected to the barrack-like accommodation and the basic facilities. "I was hungry and when I tried to get food at four in the morning they stopped me," said a tearful woman. "Now I am told I am not on the list to go out tonight. We have to put up with more of this."

Mona al-Makki, 48, from Chicago, holding her three-year-old niece, Samira, on her knees, added: "I know they are having to look after a huge number of people, but this is not a place you want to spend any amount of time.

"I guess our attitudes are coloured because while we are sitting here, good homes belonging to our relations in Beirut have been destroyed by the Israelis without a murmur of protest from our President. I was asking, 'Why the hell is no one in Washington doing anything about this?' "

Gabriel Mansouraty left Beirut in 1981 during fierce fighting that led to an Israeli invasion. He settled in El Paso, Texas, as a manager of a plastics company, and took his American wife and two sons to Lebanon to show how the land of his birth had made a success of itself after years of strife.

"None of my family had seen Lebanon and I have not been back for 25 years," said 53-year-old Mr Mansouraty. "I was amazed by what has been achieved, the new buildings, the restaurants, the roads the great lifestyle. One only really appreciates that if one knew how devastated the place was. And now this.

"The Israelis have destroyed the buildings, the roads and that lifestyle. They have put the country back 30 years. I cannot believe this all happened because of the capture of two soldiers. This must have been months in planning.

"The only good thing is this; back in 1981 it was Christians fighting Muslims with the Israelis instigating much of it. This time the Israelis have united the people. I stayed in a Christian neighbourhood and people there opened up their homes to the Muslims."

Emile Maroud, also a Christian, believes there is an Israeli agenda aimed at stopping Lebanon making progress. He said: "I had no time for the PLO and I have no time for Hizbollah. But this is about more than that. Israel does not want to see another modern, progressive state in the region."

A Royal Navy assault ship, HMS Bulwark, has evacuated more than 2,000 British and dual-nationals. Martin and Denise Carlin, from Burnley, in Lancashire, were visiting their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

Mrs Carlin, 48, said "It has been a nightmare. It was a war zone. I won't be back for a long time, if at all. This has really put me off."

The conflict: Day nine

* US marines land on Lebanese soil for the first time in 20 years to assist with evacuation of more than 1000 Americans. The US military pulled out of Lebanon in 1983 after a suicide bomber destroyed a barracks in Beirut killing 241 service personnel. British citizens continue to be evacuated.

* Fierce fighting breaks out on the Lebanese side of the border after an Israeli patrol is ambushed by Hizbollah fighters. Al-Jazeera says four Israeli soldiers were killed. Israeli military says it sustained six casualties.

* Hizbollah fire 30 rockets into northern Israel but no casualties are reported. Israeli jets drop 23 tonnes of explosives on a bunker in south Beirut hoping to assassinate Hizbollah's leader.

* Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the EU presidency, calls for a ceasefire to the conflict and expresses 'grave concern' over humanitarian situation. EU gives Lebanon €10m in aid.

* UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calls for immediate cessation of violence and condemns Israel for using excessive force. Hizbollah's actions are holding "an entire nation hostage," he says but Israel's actions are weakening the Lebanese government and putting civilians at risk.

* A Palestinian teenager is killed in central Gaza's Mughazi refugee camp as militants and troops exchange fire. Israel carries out a series of air strikes on Mughazi, killing two militants and injuring dozens of civilians. A 10-year-old Palestinian girl dies from wounds sustained in an air strike on Wednesday.

* Washington refuses to pressure Israel into declaring an immediate ceasefire. "We seek a long-term cessation of hostilities that's part of a comprehensive change in the region and part of a real foundation for peace but no one has explained how you conduct a ceasefire with terrorists," says US Ambassador John Bolton.