Britain’s Royal Navy is preparing contingency plans for a mass evacuation of British citizens from Syria and neighboring countries. A substantial Navy task force will deploy to the eastern Mediterranean for large scale exercises after the Olympics but will have the capability to help civilians fleeing the growing violence.
It will include the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and the amphibious ship HMS Bulwark ferrying 45 Commando, Royal Marines. The force will carry out amphibious landings in Sardinia, Albania and Turkey then is likely to “loiter” off Cyprus, 160 kilometres from the Syrian mainland.
Navy planners said the fleet was a precautionary measure to evacuate British passport holders from across the Middle East. A Ministry of Defence source said: “There is no question at this stage of a combat role, our aim is purely to consider contingency plans to evacuate British nationals if there are ‘proxy conflicts’ in the Lebanon and Jordan.
“The worst case scenario would be terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Jordan if the Syrian government seeks to destabilise the entire region.” It is understood that special forces and diplomats have been in the region assessing the number of British passports holders who have fled across the border from Syria into Lebanon and Jordan and drawing up evacuation plans. More than 30,000 people have fled into Lebanon alone in the past two days, according to the United Nations. Senior officers have been briefed that there will be no direct intervention in Syria but there is a strong possibility of “redeployment”.