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In Depth

Middle East in Crisis

Evacuation timeline: the biggest rescue in Canadian history

Last Updated July 31, 2006

Canadian citizens wait outside the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on Monday, hoping to be evacuated from the Lebanese capital. (Associated Press)

There are an estimated 50,000 Canadians in Lebanon; 30,000 of them are registered with the Canadian Embassy in Beirut. Canadians make up one of the largest foreign communities in the country.

When cross-border fighting put Canadian citizens in Lebanon in danger � and eight Canadians were killed by the blasts � Ottawa scrambled to find a way to get them out.

It is the largest-scale evacuation in Canadian history.

Here's how it's unfolding:

July 29, 2006:

The last of Ottawa's scheduled ships from Lebanon leaves Beirut carrying hundreds of Canadians, but foreign affairs officials say they'll continue to help any remaining Canadians who want to leave. An estimated 13,000 Canadian have left Lebanon during the daily evacuations.

July 28, 2006:

Canada's evacuation effort rescues more than 1,000 people, 877 of them Canadians, from Beirut, leaving by boat for Larnaca, Cyprus.

July 27, 2006:

Canadian Foreign Affairs ships 1,724 people out of Beirut. The department says that daily ship departures at the port will continue until Saturday and that the Canadian Embassy in Beirut is no longer contacting registered Canadians to board evacuation ships.

Richard Belliveau, a foreign affairs official heading the evacuation effort in Cyprus, says he believes most of those who wanted to leave Lebanon have done so.

July 26, 2006:

Canadians wanting to flee Lebanon head to the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, where the Cypriot ship Princesa Marissa sits offshore. Smaller boats ferry foreign nationals — including Germans, Britons, Australians and Americans — to the vessel headed for Larnaca, Cyprus. The ship is capable of taking 1,000 people.

July 23, 2006:

A German-led mission including a small team of Canadian soldiers go into Tyre, Hezbollah territory, to remove about 300 people, including 15 Canadians. The group is then brought to the Cypriot ship Princesa Marissa, which was anchored offshore to avoid bomb blasts in the region.

July 21, 2006:

Eighty-eight Canadians arrive in Ottawa from Cyprus aboard Prime Minister Stephen Harper's airplane in the early morning hours. Harper, his wife, Laureen, and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay spoke with passengers as they got off the plane.

Meanwhile, another 250 Canadians arrive in Montreal on flights chartered by the Canadian government. Three more planes carry Canadians to Montreal and Toronto.

Three more ships carrying Canadians leave the port of Beirut, two headed for Turkey, one going to Cyprus. A total of 750 people are aboard the ships chartered by the Canadian government and another 100 Canadians are on a ship transporting U.S. citizens.

About 150 Canadian citizens still in Beirut are told to wait until July 22 for another ship.

Canadians already in Turkey are at a basketball arena provided by the host country as a processing centre. It is stocked with supplies, including mattresses, food, water, diapers and toilet paper.

July 20, 2006:

The first boatload of Canadians arrives in Cyprus, after a 15-hour trip from Lebanon. The 261 people on the Blue Dawn described the voyage as an ordeal, with little drinking water for passengers who were vomiting and lying on deck.

Four more ships dock at the port of Beirut, with two more expected to arrive on July 21. All six are destined for Turkey. At least 1,375 Canadians leave Beirut on ships headed for the Turkish port of Mersin. They dock in Turkey at night. The passengers board planes at the nearby Turkish city of Adana.

Foreign nationals from other countries also arrive in Cyprus, overwhelming the island with people.

Canadians on the Blue Dawn are to be flown back home. Nearly 100 people fly to Ottawa on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government plane. The rest will take flights chartered by the federal government.

The Canadian military deploys about 70 personnel to Cyprus to help with crowd control and security during the evacuation. The military also says it has put two Halifax ships and their crews on standby, ready to leave at 48 hours' notice.

French President Jacques Chirac offers to help Canada get Canadians out of Lebanon during a meeting with Quebec Premier Jean Charest in Paris.

Other countries also remove their citizens:

  • U.S. marines land in Lebanon to help get Americans onto a navy ship, the first time marines have been in Beirut for decades.

July 19, 2006:

The evacuation of Canadian citizens from Lebanon begins. Hundreds of Canadians gather at the port of Beirut to board ships chartered by the Canadian government. They wait for hours before the first ship starts taking passengers. Scenes at the port are chaotic as Canadians try to get close enough to board the vessel, and there are glitches with Lebanese customs and immigration officials.

The Blue Dawn leaves Beirut with 261 Canadians. The rest of the roughly 1,800 Canadian citizens who wanted to leave Lebanon are forced to stay overnight in the Lebanese capital. The Blue Dawn is stopped by the Israeli navy twice during its journey.

Ottawa has arranged for seven ships � six vessels are shuttling evacuees to Turkey and one ship is heading for Cyprus. From there, they are expected to board chartered flights for Canada, at Ottawa's expense.

Handfuls of Canadians say they're not waiting for Canada's evacuation plan; some of them have already boarded ships arranged by other countries and have arrived back in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces during a news conference that he intends to fly from Paris to Cyprus in a government plane to help the evacuation. He says he will try to bring back as many as 120 Canadians. He was scheduled to head home to Canada after meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assures Harper that officials will ensure safe passage of Canadians out of Lebanon.

Harper and his wife, Laureen, later fly to Cyprus with a skeleton crew. Media traveling with the prime minister are also excluded from the flight to make room for Canadians fleeing Lebanon. Air Canada and Air Transat offer to help bring Canadians home, the Canadian Press reports. Once in Cyprus, Harper doesn't leave the plane and spends the night on the Airbus.

Other countries also bring home their nationals:

More than 1,000 Americans leave Beirut's port sailing on an eight-deck cruise liner, the first mass evacuation of U.S. citizens. Four Chinook transport helicopters ferry 800 Americans from Beirut to Larnaca airport in Cyprus. Sea stallion choppers were used earlier in the week. U.S. Brig.-Gen. Carl Jensen estimates that 6,000 Americans will be evacuated from Lebanon by the weekend.

July 18, 2006:

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says Canadians should be able to start leaving Lebanon on July 19. Canadian officials contact Canadian citizens in Lebanon, telling them when and where to meet one of the seven ships chartered by Ottawa, which can carry about 2,000 passengers a day. Ottawa is in talks with Israel and Lebanon to ease the passage of the evacuees.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders back at home criticize the government's evacuation plan. NDP Leader Jack Layton says, "The south is isolated. There doesn't seem to be a plan," for Canadians stranded there.

Harper says 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 says during a news conference in Paris with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

The U.S. ambassador pledges that by the end of the week, their evacuation would be escalated to 1,000 Americans a day.

July 17, 2006:

Harper says Canada expects to be able to move Canadians out by the middle of the week. Canada will send two commercial ships to collect Canadians who want out of the country. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay later announces they have six ships ready.

MacKay insists the government is moving quickly to transport the 50,000 Canadians from Lebanon, even though the first evacuee will not leave until July 19, and other countries have already taken people out.

"We have shown a great deal of movement," with six vessels ready to carry Canadians from the destruction in Lebanon to Cyprus, he tells The National's Peter Mansbridge.

MacKay says the Department of Foreign Affairs started looking for ships on July 14, two days after the militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. He says they found three by July 16 and six ships in total by July 17.

Foreign Affairs says the evacuations will likely take place at the port of Beirut. MacKay says he has been in contact with the Red Crescent to arrange safe passage for Canadians in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Canadians in the strife-torn region say the government is not doing enough. CBC's Nahlah Ayed, who visited the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, says there has been no official information from the embassy on when or where the ships will dock. She says people were lining up trying to get information on how to get home.

MacKay says Foreign Affairs has made contact with more than 21,000 Canadians in Lebanon.

Other countries remove their nationals:

  • An Italian ship carrying more than 300 people arrives in Cyprus.
  • France rescues 1,000 people.
  • Nearly 1,000 people leave on a Swedish-chartered ship.
  • About 400 leave on a Greek frigate.
  • 180 escape on a British warship.

July 16, 2006:

Seven Canadians are killed, most of them members of an extended family from Montreal on vacation in the village of Aitaroun: Ali El-Akhras, Amira El-Akhras and her four children aged one, four, six and eight. Her husband, Ali, later dies from blast-related injuries.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay announces plans for evacuation of Canadian citizens from Lebanon.

While Canadians wait for more information about the evacuation, Foreign Affairs urges 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.

Go to the Top

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July 25, 2006

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Quick Facts

  • Israel and Lebanon have never signed a peace deal.
  • In 1969, Lebanon signed a deal that allowed Palestinian guerrillas access to southern Lebanon.
  • In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon.
  • In 1982, Israel invaded again on a wider scale in an attempt to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization.
  • In May 2000, Israel pulled out of Lebanon.

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External Links

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: A piece of Canada's cultural mosaic
The Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council
The National Council on Canada-Arab Relations

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window)

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