Last Boatload of American Evacuees Depart Beirut

A U.S.-chartered cruise ship left Beirut on Friday for Cyprus in the last officially scheduled departure of Americans fleeing the fighting in Lebanon, a day after the U.S. reactivated its evacuation operation.

The vessel left with about 500 people on board, said Christos Matsis, port authority chief for Limassol, Cyprus.

Some 15,000 Americans -- many of them dual citizens -- have fled Lebanon since fighting began 17 days ago. U.S. officials had said their operation ended Wednesday, but then announced Thursday that the Orient Queen would return for more Americans.

Officials said they decided on the journey because the ship was still under contract with the U.S.

The U.S. Embassy was in contact with Americans who are still stranded in south Lebanon, and it urged them to await "further guidance," an embassy statement said Thursday.

"The most important thing is that they're safe, that they don't do anything rash. They should probably stay put, depending on where they are," a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The embassy was evaluating options for getting those Americans to safety, the official said.

By Friday, about 47,000 people had been evacuated through Cyprus, said Christos Kyriakides, head of the Cypriot civil defense authority.

Canadian officials said they had evacuated a total of about 11,500 of their nationals, including more than 1,700 on four ships Thursday. More Canadian ships were headed to Beirut on Friday.

The last daily Canadian evacuations would take place Saturday, officials said.

The European Union said it has evacuated most of the 20,000 Europeans who wanted to leave Lebanon and now will help migrant workers and others from poorer, non-EU countries.

The EU said that "a few hundred" citizens from the 25-member bloc were still trapped in southern Lebanon.

"Efforts are continuing to establish a safe land corridor in order to evacuate them," the statement said.

The EU has answered appeals to help evacuate up to 200,000 people, including citizens of Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan and Iraq, it said.