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ARLINGTON, Va. — The United States evacuated Wednesday about 1,200 people from Lebanon by sea and air, said Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty.

A Greek cruise ship chartered to evacuate U.S. citizens left Lebanon on Wednesday with about 900 passengers, and additional Americans were evacuated by air.

The U.S. Marine general coordinating the evacuation from Beirut says 6,000 Americans will be out of Lebanon by the weekend, and the U.S. Embassy will stay open.

An estimated 8,000 of the 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon want to be evacuated. Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen emphasized that the embassy will not close and that America “is not deserting Lebanon.”

By Friday, four Navy amphibious ships are expected to be able to assist with evacuating U.S. citizens from Lebanon when needed, a Defense official said.

The amphibious ships USS Iwo Jima, USS Whidbey Island, USS Trenton and USS Nashville have been dispatched from the 5th Fleet area of operations to assist with evacuation efforts.

The Nashville, a floating dock which contains landing craft, was expected to take part in evacuations Thursday, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

With the addition of the Nashville, the U.S. military will be capable of evacuating up to 2,000 people Thursday, he said. That capacity will double Friday when more ships join evacuation efforts, Whitman said.

The State Department has decided that U.S. citizens will not be billed for being evacuated, according to a Wednesday news release from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

“We want to do everything we can to facilitate the departure of American citizens from Lebanon. Today’s step removes one potential worry for our citizens at this difficult time,” the news release says.

Earlier this week, the 2,200 Marines and sailors in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit now on the Iwo Jima Strike Group were ordered to assist with the evacuation efforts.

The Marines include a “ground element that we will have in ready reserve in the event that we need them,” Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of 5th Fleet, told reporters Tuesday.

The deployment has special meaning for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, which was bloodied in 1983 when Hezbollah attacked a Marine barracks in Beirut.

The death toll was 241 American servicemen, including 220 Marines.

The Marines in the 24th MEU are aware of the historical significance of their return to Lebanon and many have thought about their fellow Marines who were killed in the attack, said Capt. David Nevers, a spokesman for the 24th MEU.

“But we won’t be dwelling on October 1983. We’ll be focused on the mission at hand,” Nevers said in a Tuesday e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Asked if the Marine Corps thought that Hezbollah may try to attack the 1/8 again, Nevers said: “Tough to say. Either way, we can deal with whoever would challenge us.”


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