U.S. Plans 'Air bridge' Out Of Lebanon, Officials Say - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

7/16/06-WASHINGTON

U.S. Plans 'Air bridge' Out Of Lebanon, Officials Say

Americans could be evacuated from Lebanon using an "air bridge" of fast-moving aircraft, U.S. military officials said Saturday.

Pentagon and U.S. State Department officials are working on contingency plans to get about 25,000 people out of Lebanon to escape Israel's military campaign, launched after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah guerrillas.

An "air bridge" is the term for planes that would move in swiftly and ferry people out in quick succession.

Planners are focusing on flying people from the Lebanese capital of Beirut to the island of Cyprus, officials said.

But the U.S. military is also looking at other options for any evacuation, considering whether it is possible to dock ships or land aircraft in Beirut, given the large number of Hezbollah militants there.

The Israeli bombing of the Beirut International Airport rendered it unusable, and has complicated planning.

"As of the morning of July 15, we are looking at how we might transport Americans to Cyprus," the State Department said Saturday.

"Once in Cyprus, Americans can then board commercial aircraft for onward travel. Commercial airlines provide the safest and most efficient repatriation options to final destinations," it said.

The State Department added that the government would not provide free transportation but could provide repatriation loans "to those in financial need."

The State Department has set up a Middle East Task Force to coordinate policy and share information.

It is also asking Americans in Lebanon to stay in contact with the American Embassy in Beirut through phone numbers (+961) 4-542-600 or 4-543-600.

People in the region or their relatives and friends can also call the following numbers in Washington for information: 1-202-501-4444 from overseas, or 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States.

U.S. citizens can also register with the embassy online at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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