Clashes between Israeli and Hezbollah forces continued Tuesday as several countries worked to evacuate their citizens from the danger zone. The U.S. Undersecretary of State discusses evacuating Americans from the area and strategies for ending the conflict.
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The State Department estimates 25,000 Americans are in Lebanon, and many of them want to leave, but how to get them out of the war zone? That's a work in progress.
For an update on the situation there, both logistical and diplomatic, we turn to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
Welcome, Mr. Burns.
NICHOLAS BURNS, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs: Thank you, Gwen.
Where does the evacuation process stand tonight?
Well, you're right. We've got well more than 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon. We figure that perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 of them wish to leave and feel insecure, and so what we're doing is we're registering all of them with our embassy.
Three hundred and fifty six of them came out today. Several more hundred have come out in previous days because we established an air bridge through the U.S. military from Cyprus into Beirut.
We've leased two ships, and we think in the next 24 hours well over 2,000 Americans will be evacuated on those ships from Beirut to Cyprus. They will be protected by American naval vessels. And so it's a very well-organized effort, but obviously a very chaotic environment on the ground, as you can imagine, for American citizens who find themselves stranded in Lebanon.
There is a perception among American citizens apparently on the ground from reports there, as well as here in the United States, that the United States has been more slow, has been slower than other nations in getting its citizens out. Is there anything to that?
I don't think so. I'm sorry that that perception is out there, because I can tell you we are working 24/7 on this. We have a 24-hour task force here. We have people who we've sent to both Cyprus and Lebanon to help American citizens.
I think there's a different quality to the issue. A lot of European countries have citizens in Lebanon who were there, frankly, as tourists or short-term visitors.
The great majority of Americans who live in Lebanon are dual-citizens. They carry two passports. They obviously feel more comfortable in Lebanon. They are embedded in the society there.
So a great number of Americans, probably the majority, are going to choose not to leave, because perhaps they're not in Beirut, they're in safe parts of the country. But for those Americans who wish to leave, we will do everything in our power to help them leave.
We have a very well-organized effort through our American embassy and Ambassador Jeff Feltman. And I think you will see, having established the air bridge over the last couple of days — and we were the first to do that of any country — we now have these two big ships coming in. And you'll see lots of Americans get to safety in Cyprus in the coming day or two.