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Cyprus a "rescue bridge" for thousands fleeing Lebanon
2006-08-03 14:05:51

Nicosia, Aug 3 -- Foreign governments and international media have described Cyprus as a "rescue bridge" for thousands of Lebanese and foreign nationals, who have abandoned Lebanon to save themselves from continuous Israeli bombing.

Cyprus, at the crossroads of three continents and in close proximity to the Middle East, is best suited to act as a bridge for all those fleeing the horrors of war-torn Lebanon, a role it has played on various occasions in the past.

During World War II, this Eastern Mediterranean island hosted thousands of Jews who had escaped the Nazis. Today, the roles have been reversed. Terrified Lebanese and foreign nationals are seeking refuge in Cyprus to get away from Israel?s bombing.

During the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, in the mid 70s, thousands of Lebanese refugees, Christians and Muslims, of various denominations, found shelter in Cyprus.

In the new tragedy that has hit this neighbouring country, Cyprus once again opened its ports and airports to welcome all those fleeing the horror and the destruction of war, most of whom foreign nationals. This was much appreciated by foreign governments and humanitarian organizations while media overseas had nothing but praise for the way Cyprus was handling the situation and cooping with the huge influx of evacuees.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as she stopped over in Cyprus on her way to the Middle East, has expressed gratitude for the "remarkable cooperation" between Washington and Nicosia in the evacuation effort of US citizens. She thanked Foreign Minister George Lillikas for the assistance Cyprus provided in the departure effort.

The European Union, through the current president of the Council of Ministers, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, referred specifically to Cyprus and the services it has laid down for EU nationals and others, to facilitate the evacuation effort through the island, thanking the government and the people for their help.

French Defence Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie conveyed to Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos warm thanks from President Jacques Chirac for everything this small island has done to help evacuees.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair thanked Papadopoulos in a letter for the "excellent support" the Cypriot authorities have extended to Britain during the Lebanese crisis.

According to official statistics, since the start of hostilities about 55,000 persons have passed through Cyprus on their way to freedom from war-ravaged Lebanon.

Cyprus is truly a "rescue bridge" for these people. It is the only sea route to the outside world. Battleships and cruise ships from various countries were chartered and for many days transported thousands of people from Beirut port to the ports of Larnaca and Limassol, on the southern coast.

The airports of Larnaca and Paphos have recorded an unprecedented movement of aircraft and vessels, carrying foreign nationals from Lebanon via Cyprus to other destinations.

Cyprus was the first country to mobilize its services to help bring back its own citizens from Lebanon and the first nation to open its borders to host the thousands of foreign nationals.

It opened up school buildings and stadiums to provide temporary accommodation. It mobilized all state services to offer every possible assistance to the harassed, by their ordeal, people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs played an important role in the diplomatic arena and international efforts to solve the crisis. Cyprus was used as a stopover on the way to Israel and Lebanon by high ranking EU, US, UN, French and other officials. Humanitarian aid from the EU and other countries was sent to Lebanon through Cyprus.

The Ministry of the Interior mobilized its services, including district administration and the local authorities. With concise procedures, entry visas were issued to the refugees. Civil Defence was right from the start at the side of the evacuees, providing every possible assistance.

The Ministry of Health offered its services to accommodate and relieve the refugees. Doctors and nurses worked round the clock and hospitals took care of the injured and sick.

The Ministry of Communications and Works made arrangements at airports and ports to facilitate the thousands of daily arrivals from Lebanon. The Civil Aviation Department and airport and port authorities worked day and night to complete this difficult task.

The Police force and the Fire Brigade, of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, were on full alert, ready to help.

The Ministry of Defence opened the "Andreas Papandreou" air base to military aircraft of other countries going back and forth to Lebanon. Other ministries and state departments also played a significant role in this effort.

Members of the Cypriot branch of Doctors of the World, risking their lives, went immediately to bombarded southern Lebanon to offer medical aid to the severely wounded and transport Cypriot state aid in medication and other bare necessity items.

Hundreds of volunteers from non governmental organisations, such as the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations, were looking after the refugees and organised money collections to be sent to the afflicted people of Lebanon.

The people of Cyprus, themselves refugees and victims of the 1974 Turkish invasion and continuing occupation of the island?s northern part, know only too well the consequences of a war and are in a position to sympathize with the drama of the refugees from Lebanon and offer comfort and relief to those in need.

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