French President Jacques Chirac, right, welcomes Quebec Premier Jean Charest before their meeting in Paris on Thursday. ((Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press))

French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday offered a helping hand to Canada— which has up to 50,000 citizens in Lebanon— to evacuate the strife-torn country.

"[Chirac] was very generous and spontaneously expressed the wish that we collaborate and, if the need is there, if possible, he offered French collaboration so that we can move people out," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said after meeting with Chirac.

The first shipload of Canadians leaving Lebanon with Ottawa's help has arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, as thousands of others in Beirut anxiously wait for their turn.

Some 261 of an estimated 50,000 Canadians in Lebanon disembarked from the 62-metre Blue Dawn on Thursday morning. An additional four ships arrived in Beirut on Thursday totake more Canadians to Turkey.

France is removing its citizens and others on a Greek ferry to Cyprus. The first group of nearly 500 arrived in Paris on a special Air France flight on Tuesday.

Harperstops in Cyprus

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a stopover in Cyprus following his visit earlier this week to France and was to pick up 120 evacuees from Lebanon and fly them home.

His administration has come under criticism at home for not moving quickly enough to remove the 30,000 of the 50,000 Canadian-Lebanese who have registered with the embassy in Beirut for evacuation from Lebanon.

Canada lost eight citizens to an Israeli air strike on Sunday, all members of a Montreal family killed when a shell hit their home in southern Lebanon.

Charest said Quebecers would be coming home within days and "we will be there to help them."

Charest, speaking to reporters, came out in favour of an international force in Lebanon, which has been under Israeli attack for a ninth day following the militant Hezbollah'scapture of two Israeli soldiers.

But, "it is on the ground that we must judge the appropriate moment to deploy" such force, he added.

With files from the Associated Press