U.S. Diplomats Work Under Fire in Lebanon

The current crisis between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops is testing the mettle of U.S. diplomats in Lebanon. They have arranged the evacuations of thousands of American citizens under dangerous conditions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DON GONYEA reporting:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

American forces are nearly finished evacuating thousands of U.S. citizens from war-torn Lebanon. The battle between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas show no sign of letting up. The evacuation has been a huge undertaking. Juliet Wurr is a public affairs officer at the American Embassy in Beirut.

Ms. JULIET WURR (Public Affairs Officer, American Embassy, Beirut): Our tiny little Embassy was having to deal with a crisis of enormous proportions very, very quickly, and that's what we've been doing for the last 12 days now.

GONYEA: The embassy has helped about 12,000 American students, vacationing families and long-time residents leave Lebanon.

Ms. WURR: The phone just never stopped ringing, our cell phones, telephone rings, and we needed to get information out to them very, very quickly. We also had to get the vessels, the helicopters into Lebanon so we could take Americans out.

GONYEA: Wurr has lived in Beirut for three years. Her work and life changed overnight when Israel began bombing Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon.

Ms. WURR: The night before it happened, I was actually sitting in downtown Beirut in a lovely restaurant with friends, leading a normal life. And before we knew it, we had a situation where there was extreme violence and people felt they needed to leave.

GONYEA: Wurr works and lives in a temporary American compound which sits on a hill in an old residential neighborhood in Beirut. The American Embassy was forced to move after its buildings were bombed in the 1980's. Armed guards patrol the compound.

Ms. WURR: When I walk around this compound, there are concrete walls that I could duck under in case a sniper was going to hit me. We have bunkers here. I have a flak jacket and a helmet. That was in my house when I moved to Beirut. And I sort of laughed about it and put it on a shelf and thought, well, I'll never use that. Well, I took it out a couple of days ago and I put it where it was a little bit handy.

GONYEA: Unlike other American citizens, Wurr is required to stay in Beirut to carry out her job. But she says it's a job she loves. As a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. government she has worked in several countries, including Syria, Egypt and Iraq. She is not new to a tough work environment, but she has found these past weeks particularly challenging.

Ms. WURR: The thing that has made me tear up most in the last couple of days is looking at my Lebanese colleagues. They've seen the Americans leave before and what that must mean for them. It's very, very sad. I hope we're going to be able to stay and we're going to be able to do something to bring back stability to Lebanon and help the Lebanese people achieve their dream of a sovereign, independent, democratic, united country.

GONYEA: Juliet Wurr is a public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

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