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First US evacuees arrive from Israel on cruise ship

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The first US evacuees arrived in Cyprus by sea on Tuesday in Limassol on a luxury Royal Caribbean cruise ship departing from Haifa, Israel, after an escalation of hostilities.

There were 159 evacuees on the cruise ship. The group primarily consisted of US citizens who were elderly individuals, families with children, and tourists.

The group onboard the Rhapsody of the Sea arrived at Limassol port around 6:15 a.m., encountering tight security measures with armed police and sniffer dogs.

Evacuees arriving at Limassol port had responded to a call by the US Embassy in Nicosia issued on Sunday.

US Ambassador Julie Fisher visited the port to meet those Americans arriving.

“This is a very challenging moment, as you can imagine, for those choosing to leave Israel, and we want to help and do everything we can to make this as smooth as possible,” Fisher told reporters.

She said the Cypriot Government “is making a huge difference for our citizens, and from what I’ve seen, for citizens of many other countries as well.”

Fisher said the US is ready to support its citizens as the situation unfolds.

A mother holding her small infant told reporters: “What happened is very scary, beyond our imagination; thousands are being murdered and butchered for no reason, just because we’re Jewish. It’s horrific,”.

The cruise liner, designed to accommodate 2,500 passengers, was initially expected to transport a much larger number of individuals seeking evacuation from Israel and was scheduled to make four return trips.

Head of the President’s Press Office Victor Papadopoulos told CyBC radio Tuesday that a ferry line from Haifa will operate every 12 hours to evacuate foreign nationals from Israel.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Theodoros Gotsis told state radio Cyprus was committed to helping repatriate foreign nationals and ensuring that all necessary arrangements are made to accommodate those in transit.

Cyprus is being used as a safe transfer hub for foreign nationals evacuating Israel following the outbreak of violence since the October 7 Hamas border attacks.

Officials said that since its activation on October 10 (not including Tuesday’s arrivals), 625 people have arrived in Cyprus, most of whom have been repatriated.

Most of the 159 passengers are expected to continue their journey via Larnaca or Paphos airports, where buses organised by the embassy will transport them.

The US Embassy in Nicosia has also set up a hospitality spot at the site to help with arrangements for the repatriation of US citizens.