Canadians reach Cyprus after fleeing Tyre

Israeli warplanes destroyed an empty building in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre Wednesday, shortly after a Canadian-chartered ship left the port leave carrying foreign evacuees.

A Canadian-chartered ship arrived in Cyprus early Thursday morning, carrying approximately 360 evacuees from Tyre, Lebanon.

The Princesa Marissa, chartered by the Department of Foreign Affairs to retrieve stranded foreign nationals, included 14 Canadians, not the nearly 50 originally believed to be boarding the ship.

Wednesday's evacuation mission to Larnaca also transported Germans, British, Australians and Americans.

The ship set offless than two hours before Israeli warplanes destroyed an empty building in Tyre. A huge plume of smoke rose into the sky above the city after the strike, which knocked out electricity in some areas.

Video footage showed people beating back flames with blankets and international Red Cross workers climbing through rubble-filled streets.

The building housed the office of Sheik Nabil Kaouk, the Hezbollah commander in south Lebanon, said reports.

Freelance journalist Rania Abouzeid said the building was in a residential area and that civilians living nearby were injured in the air strike. Kaouk wasn't there at the time of the attack, she told CBC News.

Rescue ship leaves Tyre

Uniformed Canadian soldiers and embassy officialsspent the dayat theTyre's main port as waves of people arrived by car and bus, said CBC foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed.

With passports in hand, peoplewere beingregistered and taken directly to smaller boats, which ferried them to the Marissa. Capable of carrying 1,000 people, the same Cypriot ship rescued hundreds of foreign nationals from Tyre on Tuesday.

Cypriot immigration officials will quickly process the passengers before they are loaded on to buses and taken to three staging areas: a basketball stadium with cots, a school gymnasium and a community centre.

While the evacuees are waiting for theplanes that will take them to Montreal, Canadian officials must grant visas to non-Canadian family members of evacuees and develop flight manifests for the planes, said Foreign Affairs official Richard Belliveau, who is running the Canadian evacuation effort in Cyprus.

"It's a tricky operation, especially because we have no Canadian high commission in Cyprus. We've set up our own team and gone from scratch."

Since July 20, Canadian officials in Cyprus have processed 6,400 people, said Belliveau.

Harrowing trip to port

Many of thosewho arrivedin Tyre had been through a harrowing journey to get to the port, with nearby villages, roads and bridges pulverized by Israeli air strikes.

A woman identified only as Satema said the Canadian Embassy told her about the ship's departure, but that the roads were not safe.

"It's our responsibility to come here. We took a big risk to come with our children," she said.

The city has largely been spared from air strikes for the past two days as the evacuations take place, but blasts can be heard in the surrounding countryside,Ayed said. Planesflew over the port area throughout the day.

Israel's air campaign started 15 days ago after Lebanese-based Hezbollah militants attacked an Israeli army post, killing eight soldiers andcapturing two.

Israel has targeted southern Lebanon and Beirut, while Hezbollah militants have fired rockets at northern Israeli communities and the city of Haifa.

Lebanon's government reports 418deaths, while Israel reports42 Israelis have been killed. As many as 800,000 people have been displaced or affected by the violence,the United Nations reports.

As of Tuesday, 8,739 Canadians had been removed from Lebanon,the Foreign Affairs Department says.

Most were taken by ship from the port of Beirut over the past seven days, to either Cyprus or Mersin, Turkey. From those locations, they were to be flown to Toronto or Montreal.

On Monday, a small team of Canadian soldiers ventured into Hezbollah territory as part of a German-led mission to remove about 300 people, including 15 Canadians, from Tyre.

with files from Canadian Press