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Marines speed flight of Americans in Beirut

BEIRUT -- US Marines ferried 1,200 Americans from a Beirut beach to the USS Nashville yesterday -- the first Marine operation in Lebanon in more than two decades.

A chartered cruise ship made its second voyage to Cyprus, carrying 1,000 more Americans, and helicopters flew some people directly to the Mediterranean island, speeding the departure of US citizens and other foreigners from Lebanon in the face of Israeli bombardment.

``We didn't expect to have to leave like this," said Hasan Zaydon, a 13-year-old American who had hoped to spend the summer with relatives in the southern city of Sidon.

Asked what he would tell friends, he said: ``I'll tell them I lived through a war."

Some 25,000 foreigners have fled Lebanon since Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid last week, setting off the Israeli offensive. Hezbollah has responded to the Israeli attacks by firing rockets onto the Jewish state.

Thousands of foreigners, some sitting on curbstones with shirts draped over their heads against the blazing Mediterranean sun, waited all day to leave.

It was the first time US Marines on combat duty had set foot in Beirut since deadly attacks in 1983 and 1984 on the Marine barracks and the US Embassy annex.

About 325 people, mostly Americans, died in those bombings, which were blamed on militants linked to Hezbollah.

The Shi'ite guerrilla group has always denied involvement.

``It's like going to see the Colosseum in Rome -- I'm exploring my history as a Marine, being here where all my fellow Marines died," said Lance Corporal Nicholas Miniard, 21, of Cincinnati as he helped Americans board the Orient Queen.

The cruise ship normally carries up to 800 vacationers on Mediterranean cruises.

``We were expecting to have to row boats to Cyprus, so this is amazing," joked Nawal Zahzah, 16, of Long Beach, Calif.

``There is a guilt feeling about leaving," said Ann Shebbo, a US citizen who lives in the United Arab Emirates. ``The Lebanese people should not suffer this way."

Many of those leaving expressed frustration at the pace of the evacuation.

``I never thought I'd live to see Canada treat people like this," said Zeinab Farhat, 46, of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who waited in line for nearly 10 hours yesterday without learning whether she would be able to depart.

``I keep thinking I'll wake up from this horrible dream," she said, crying.

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