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Biondi still in Lebanon with St. Louis priest

Rev. Lawrence Biondi (KWMU file photo)
Rev. Lawrence Biondi (KWMU file photo)


St. Louis, MO – Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi says he doesn't expect to get out of Lebanon anytime soon, but he's fine for now.

Biondi is in Lebanon with rector Andre Mhanna of St. Raymond's parish for what was to be a two-week visit. But Israel began bombing the country last week.

Biondi and Mhanna are at Mhanna's parents' home outside Beirut and were not part of the first wave of U.S. evacuees to leave the country Tuesday, Biondi said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Biondi, 67, and Mhanna, 30, arrived in Beirut on July 11. The bombing began a week ago.

Mhanna said about 15 other families from his Maronite Church in St. Louis were trapped in Lebanon because most travel has been blocked by Israeli forces. He says everyone is fine for now.

"We have gone up to the mountains because it was getting too dangerous," Mhanna said by cell phone at his parents' home about 20 minutes outside Beirut. "We will not be too hopeful that we will leave soon at this point."

Mhanna, 30, said he and Biondi were told by the U.S. Embassy that they would be notified through the media about an hour before they were to leave, which is why they did not want to get too far away from their hotel in Beirut's predominantly Christian zone.

The ship being used to evacuate Americans has room for about 750 people, which concerned Mhanna.

"The trip is expected to take about six hours each way," he said. "There are more than 3,000 or 4,000 people who have registered with the embassy to leave the country. We do not expect anything until Thursday or Friday."

Mhanna, whose family is from Lebanon, said his larger concern was for the safety of Biondi and his family. "I just want to make sure Father Larry is on board and he's safe," he said. "But it seems things are worsening by the hour."

Mhanna said about 15 other families from his church in St. Louis were also trapped in Lebanon because most travel has been blocked by Israeli forces. The Maronite Church, an old Eastern Rite branch of Catholicism, is based in Lebanon. "We had dinner with four of the families last night, and everyone is OK, for now," he said.

But he said the situation was deteriorating quickly. "We don't know what's safe anymore," he said. "The focus of the target list seems to be very large and very wide, things seem out of the ordinary to what we're used to."

The U.S. ambassador has said 320 Americans would leave Lebanon by the end of Tuesday and 1,000 more the following day.

On Wednesday, 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. The U.S. estimates 25,000 Americans live or work in Lebanon.

Israel imposed a sea, air and land blockade of Lebanon. It was targeting bridges, roads, the international airport and ports after Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Witnesses said Saturday that Israeli aircraft attacked central Beirut for the first time in the new offensive.

Mhanna said he has seen planes passing overhead on bombing runs, anti-aircraft guns countering from the ground and a naval blockage that has formed in the sea.

"We don't know what is going to happen once we leave," Mhanna said. "Because really we are really in the middle of worldwide confusion. It is not a Lebanese war. The escalation seems to have a tension among nations so that we don't know if there is going to be one step toward world war."