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Evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon to start Wednesday

Canadians should be able to start leaving Lebanon on Wednesday, when the first of seven ships chartered by the government begins a shuttle between the shattered country and Cyprus or Turkey.

Canadians should be able to start leaving Lebanon on Wednesday, when the first of seven ships chartered by the government begins a shuttle between the shattered country and Cyprus or Turkey.

"The ships will be continuously in use, they will return as many times as necessary to evacuate as many people who have expressed the desire to leave, and we will be there for the duration," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said on Tuesday night.

There are an estimated 50,000 Canadians in Lebanon.Some are camping out in Beirut parks while they wait for the evacuation to begin. They're "exhausted and frightened," the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reported.

About 30,000 have registered with the Canadian embassy in Beirut. Canadian officials contacted people on Tuesday, telling them when and where to meet a ship.

Once they arrivein Cyprus (about 200 kilometres away) or Turkey (more than 300 kilometres), flights will carry the evacuees to Montreal.

The ships can carry a total of 2,000 people a day, but it's not known how many Canadians will want to leave.

"This will be largest scale evacuation in Canadian history," MacKay said.

Ottawa is in talks with Israel and Lebanon to ease the passage of the evacuees.

"We want assurances that those ships will be protected and afforded the utmost safety," MacKay said on CBC Newsworld.

Opposition leaders question government's plans

Other countries began evacuating their citizens several days ago, the French using ships and the Americans military helicopters.

"What did the British, the French and the Americans do differently?"Liberal Leader Bill Graham asked.

In the south of Lebanon, the focus of Israel's attacks, transportation is disrupted.

"The south is isolated," NDP Leader Jack Laytonsaid,and "there doesn't seem to be a plan" for Canadians stranded there.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the evacuation is happening "extraordinarily quickly," under the circumstances.

"Our officials have been in contact with literally thousands of people in Lebanon to prepare this and have lined up resources in several countries to make it possible," Harper said during a news conference in Paris with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

"So I'm very hopeful that the evacuation will begin in earnest very quickly."

Speaking in French, Harper said Canada is not a large country and lacks some of the transport capacity to move large numbers of people quickly.

Ottawa tells Canadians to get ready

WhileCanadians wait for more information about the evacuation,Foreign Affairsis urging them to stay indoors, put their travel papers in order, be prepared with a maximum of 20 kilograms of luggage, and have medication for three days.

Some Canadians, according to newspaper reports, have already boarded ships arranged by other countries for safe passage out of Lebanon.

The Toronto Star reported that a Montreal family of six and an Ottawa family of four took an Italian warship Monday night to Cyprus. La Presse reported that a Quebec woman and her two children used a Dutch convoy to go to Syria. From there, they flew to Amsterdam on Dutch military aircraft.

Israel has launched many attacks on Lebanon in response to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers last week. The militant group Hezbollah has responded by firing rockets into northern Israel.

The attacks have been continuing for seven days.

With files from the Canadian Press.