Navy Warships Sail to Rescue Britons Caught in Beirut Hell; MoD Forced to Act as 10,000 Nationals Are Trapped in War Zone
Byline: MARTIN SMITH
TWO British warships were preparing to steam to Lebanon last night to help evacuate British citizens trapped in the conflict zone.
The flagship aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and the assault ship HMS Bulwark were deployed after criticism from Britons in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, that the Government was not doing enough to help.
Other countries have already mobilised their armed forces and around 10,000 Britons are trapped.
However, the 22,000-ton Illustrious was docked in Gibraltar last night, two days away, while Bulwark - an 18,400-ton amphibious craft - is on duties off Barcelona.
A military source said the Ministry of Defence could order eight helicopters - Sea Kings and EH101s - on board Illustrious to fly ahead of the carrier, refuel at Aviano in Italy and in Cyprus before starting an evacuation in Lebanon.
They could airlift small numbers to Cyprus. Bulwark is equipped with Merlin helicopters and is closer to the troublespot.
But before the flights begin, the SAS and SBS are likely to be sent ahead to secure the ground in order to guarantee the safety of British citizens.
One British woman yesterday described how she was hiding in terror in her Beirut home from the constant air strikes and that she felt ' completely abandoned' by the British Government.
Clair Vainola, 31, from Newcastle, working as a drug counsellor in the city since last November, said: 'There are planes overhead and I can hear bombs falling. It's terrifying.
'I rang the embassy and they told me the conflict was not serious and they would not be evacuating any British citizens.
How many more have to die before the Government classifies this as serious?'
Marnie Cashmore, 39, from Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, said her partner William Rushton, 43, arrived in Beirut on business last Tuesday just before the air strikes began. …