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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Trapped - Humanitarian Crisis deepens to include Internationals

The Canadian government is advising its citizens in Lebanon to stay indoors and limit their movements as much as possible, as Israeli forces hammer away at Hezbollah guerillas deep into Lebanese territory.

However, Canadian Chady Moustarah, stranded in Lebanon with four family members, said he wants the Canadian government to get its citizens out of the country.

"I don't know what they're thinking. Are they not seeing what we're seeing?" he told his sister Shadia in Edmonton by phone on Saturday.

The Canadian government has said it will evacuate its citizens if the situation deteriorates. There are about 10,000 Canadians registered as being in Lebanon, according to the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa.

Moustarah argued that his family could have escaped to Syria on Wednesday, but stayed in Lebanon because of the Department's advisory. Now, escape from the country seems impossible.

His frustration with the advisory increased Saturday, when Israeli planes dropped pamphlets telling people to evacuate the area within two hours before it was bombed.

Meanwhile, France has ordered a ferry to depart from Cyprus to pick up its nationals in Lebanon. The U.S. Embassy said it's considering the best way to transport Americans out of the area, and Britain is deciding how best to protect its citizens.

But evacuating foreign nationals from Lebanon could be extremely difficult.

Israeli forces are blocking Lebanon's ports, and have damaged the major highway between Beirut and Damascus, Syria, according to The Canadian Press.

Beirut's airport is also closed.

One stranded 20-year-old Canadian said the conflict has given him a revealing look into the region's political tensions.

"It's awful to have people who come in that are obviously so desperate to protect their children from these nightmarish blasts that are going on in Beirut," Carl Conradi, a University of Alberta political science student, told CP by phone.

"But by the same token, I've had some really unbelievable conversations with people that have really opened up my eyes as to how challenging it is to maintain security in the Middle East."

Conradi has been in Beirut since July 8. He described the city as now looking like a "ghost town."

His plan to escape to Syria on Saturday via a northern mountain pass was cut short when he heard the area was bombed.

He said people wanted to escape the violence are becoming desperate, and that some residents thought the conflict wouldn't escalate.

"It was initially a matter of everyone being patient," he said. "They were under the impression that everything would be over in a few days."

Bob Freedman, of the Canadian Jewish Congress, is praying for an end to the conflict. But he said that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hezbollah.

He said Lebanon needs to control Hezbollah's militia.

"Clearly no country should withstand, or should allow, any group to act independently," said Freedman. "In this case, (Hezbollah) acted recklessly, and the Lebanese government, and unfortunately the Lebanese people, is paying the price."

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