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Swiss nationals evacuated from Lebanon

A Lebanese soldier stands next to a bomb crater in Beirut

(Keystone)

The foreign ministry says around 50 Swiss nationals have been evacuated from Lebanon, as the violence in the Middle East continues to escalate.

On Saturday Israel resumed strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, where numerous civilians are reported to have been killed.

The conflict has prompted several countries, including Switzerland, to start evacuating their nationals from Lebanon.

"Fifty-four Swiss and 30 German nationals left Beirut late on Friday afternoon in buses arranged by the Swiss embassy in Lebanon in collaboration with the German embassy," confirmed Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry.

"The passengers arrived safe and sound in [the Syrian capital] Damascus at 5am after a long and roundabout journey," he added.

Jeannerat pointed out that the convoy had been forced to avoid the main Beirut-Damascus highway because of artillery strikes. The evacuees are now awaiting repatriation or preparing to head to other destinations.

Officials say there are 838 Swiss nationals living in Lebanon, of which 713 hold dual nationality. But the foreign ministry told Le Matin newspaper there could also be "several hundred" Swiss tourists who had travelled independently to Lebanon.

The Swiss government has advised those still in the country to contact the Beirut embassy, which has four staff, and to stay away from potential trouble spots.

Other European countries, including France and Italy, have also begun evacuating nationals from Lebanon. With Beirut airport closed following Israeli air strikes and ports blockaded, the only way out of the country is by road.

Artillery strikes

The Israeli army said on Saturday it had struck about 150 targets in Lebanon so far, fewer than a dozen of them linked directly to Hezbollah. Most have hit civilian installations.

Hezbollah fired more than two dozen rockets at towns in northern Israel, slightly wounding several people.

Around 100 people have died in Lebanon, most of them civilians, in the four-day Israeli offensive, sparked by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Four Israeli soldiers are feared dead after a Hezbollah missile struck an Israeli warship off the Lebanese coast on Friday.

Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Saturday to discuss ways to end Israeli attacks on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

President Bush, in Moscow for a meeting of G8 leaders, blamed Hezbollah for the violence and called on Syria to exert its influence to persuade the Lebanese Shi'ite group to stop attacks on Israel.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

According to the foreign ministry, there are 838 Swiss nationals living in Lebanon.
Officials believe there could be "several hundred" Swiss tourists in the country.
Switzerland is advising people not to travel to Lebanon because of the ongoing security risk.

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In brief

On Thursday the Swiss foreign ministry issued a statement criticising Israel's actions in Lebanon.

The Swiss, who also condemned the attacks by Hezbollah, said the Israeli reaction was "disproportionate" and threatened a "non-hostile neighbouring state".

Switzerland called on all parties to end the "destructive escalation, which is now threatening to develop into a regional war".

The Swiss also appealed to all sides to respect international humanitarian law.

end of infobox


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