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Canada has chartered six ships to help trapped Canadians escape Lebanon but Foreign Affairs officials have yet to figure out how to first move the people from the most dangerous and isolated parts of the country to Beirut.

There were also complaints yesterday that the Canadian government is acting too slowly.

"We expect to be able to evacuate people by midweek," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in St. Petersburg, Russia. "We are in line with the Americans and British on that and we are working very closely with them on evacuation."

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In fact, Britain and the United States have already begun lifting their citizens out of the conflict zone by helicopter. France has removed hundreds on a Greek cruise liner. Sweden chartered three ships to remove 850 people. Norway, Italy, Brazil and Denmark have each taken out hundreds of people.

Canadian officials say they are waiting for assurances from Israel and Lebanon that Canadian citizens will be provided safe sea passage to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

"Canada is very much on par with other countries as far as these plans and execution of evacuation," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday. "The security aspect is really what we've been focused on." And, Mr. MacKay said, "Canada has far more people there than all the other countries combined."

Some estimates suggest there are 40,000 Canadians in Lebanon. Nearly 25,000 have registered with the embassy in Beirut, but not all will want to leave the country.

Liberal leadership hopeful Scott Brison complained yesterday that those who want out should have received Canadian assistance sooner.

"We will not be there to help our citizens escape danger until Wednesday," Mr. Brison said. "Our government is dawdling and the fact is that minutes and hours count in a situation as dangerous as this."

Canadians who can get to Beirut will be offered passage on chartered cruise liners leased by Canada that range in size and speed, Foreign Affairs officials said yesterday.

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Some will take two hours to make the journey from the Lebanese coast to Cyprus, where the government will have three privately leased aircraft waiting to lift them to a safe destination. Some will take nine hours.

The ships can take 4,500 Canadians a day in total, likely from the port of Beirut, which was the safest point of departure as of yesterday even though it is still being hit by Israeli air raids.

But Foreign Affairs officials acknowledge they do not yet have a plan for removing people from the more distant villages, particularly in the southern part of the country, which has seen most of the shelling -- and is the area where a Canadian family was killed Sunday.

Roads and bridges into the area have been destroyed by the Israeli attacks and land travel is extremely dangerous. Ten civilians were killed yesterday when their cars were bombed as they tried to cross a bridge near Sidon.

There is some thought being given to asking the Red Cross and similar organizations to help provide humanitarian access. Meanwhile, calls from Canadians seeking assistance are being rerouted from Lebanon to an emergency telephone centre in the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa, which has brought on extra staff to deal with the crisis. The centre has fielded nearly 7,000 calls since Thursday.

The shifting of those duties has left the embassy in Beirut to handle Canadians walking in off the street. There were long lines of people outside the embassy yesterday and complaints that the 29 people there couldn't handle the load.

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Middle East analyst Alain-Michel Ayache criticized the Canadian government yesterday for keeping some of its Lebanese embassy operations in Damascus, a legacy of the time when Syria controlled the country.

Immigration services and interviews are still conducted in Damascus, said Mr. Ayache, a scholar of Lebanese origin at the University of Quebec.

"The Harper government inherited this problem from the Liberals," he said.

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