An estimated 1,800 Britons were among thousands of foreigners fleeing the war-torn shores of Lebanon last night.
As fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces intensified, the UK assault ship HMS Bulwark set sail for Cyprus with hundreds of evacuees on board.
More than 300 people escaping the bomb-ravaged country have already arrived back in Britain, after being ferried to safety at the start of the largest war-zone evacuation since Dunkirk.
They were among an exodus of more than 10,000 foreigners, including 4,100 Danes and more than 2,000 Americans, who have already left, while a United Nations-chartered vessel is heading for the port of Tyre to help with the evacuat ion of further foreign nationals.
Another British ship, as yet unnamed, will dock in Beirut this morning to pick up more of those desperate to leave the conflict zone, the Foreign Office said, while there were six flights yesterday from Cyprus to Britain.
Crammed into wardrooms and corridors aboard Bulwark, the British evacuees fleeing Lebanon told of their relief to be safe.
Martin and Denise Carlin, from Burnley in Lancashire, were on holiday visiting their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren when the violence broke out.
They had no option but to stay in Beirut when the international airport was bombed, and Mrs Carlin, aged 48, said: "It has been a proper nightmare. It was a war zone.
"I won't be back for a long time if at all. This has really put me off.
"Lebanon is a lovely country and we visited three years previously, but we did not expect this to happen.
"Our daughter lives ten minutes from the airport and it felt like the bombing was on top of us, it was frightening.
"We heard the jets going over us, a small noise and then silence - we didn't know if it was coming straight for us."
Pleas from world leaders - including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pope Benedict XVI - for an immediate ceasefire have gone unheeded in nine days of violence which erupted after militant group Hezbollah launched a cross-border attack on an Israeli military patrol, killing eight soldiers and capturing two.
So far, about 300 people have died and 1,000 have been wounded, with half a million people displaced.
Mr Annan called for an immediate halt to the escalating conflict but said "there are serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire or even to diminishing the violence quickly."
He condemned Israel's excessive use of force against Lebanon, and Hezbollah's attacks on Israel and July 12 abduction of two Israeli soldiers which triggered the crisis.
"Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli population centres with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop," he said.
Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman indicated to reporters immediately after Mr Annan's speech that there would be no ceasefire.
"It will take as long as it will take," he said when asked whether there would be an immediate ceasefire.
"We will do whatever is necessary. We have no timeline."
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said all British citizens in Lebanon were now being advised not to delay their departure, with the exception of those in the south.
Speaking earlier after talks with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mrs Beckett said more than one thousand British nationals had already been evacuated from Beirut to Cyprus by sea, of whom some had already travelled on to the UK.
And she added: "We have advised people not to delay any more their departure from Lebanon. There is one very important exception and that is a number of people currently in southern Lebanon.
"Arrangements are being made for their departure. The UN has chartered a vessel which is heading for, or in the vicinity of, Tyre." Talks have been held with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, among others, but Mrs Beckett said a ceasefire was needed, although she stressed it must be sustainable and allow the Lebanese government and army to take "complete control" of the whole of the country.
However, as the crisis grows, aid efforts have increased apace.
Millions have now been pledged, with the European Union promising ten million euros (£6.8 million), and the Britain Government giving £2 million through the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission.
Christian Aid yesterday made two emergency grants to partner organisations working in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, while ten British Red Cross delegates left yesterday morning for Cyprus to help evacuated Britons.
Muslim Aid is trying to raise £500,000, and will be handing out flyers outside mosques today in addition to a televised appeal tonight.
Oxfam has launched an appeal, while Save the Children has announced a £3 million target to help the "rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis".
However, the charity claimed the child death toll could be higher than United Nations' estimates.
Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, said nearly a third of the dead or wounded in the conflict were children. And he warned that, without a truce allowing aid agencies to begin the relief effort, there would be a "catastrophe" in the country.
But Aimee Ansari, programme director for Save the Children in the Middle East and North Africa, said she had heard the proportion of child deaths was even higher than the UN figures.
"The people I contact in Lebanon say it is closer to 45 per cent of the casualties are children," she said.