Three C-130 Airforce planes took off from the military airport at Elefsis on Thursday morning to evacuate more than 140 Greeks wishing to return from Libya, with deputy foreign minister Dimitris Dollis and officials from the foreign and national defence ministries on board to coordinate the operation.

The planes are due to land shortly after noon at the airports in Tripoli and Sabah to pick up more than 100 and 40 Greeks respectively, after receiving landing permission from the Libyan authorities.

Dollis outlined the difficulties of the operation in a statement just before takeoff from Elefsis, noting that there are approximately 300 Greeks in Libya.

He said the planes are due to return from Tripoli and Sabah by Thursday night, while the ministry is working on alternative solutions for the other Greeks, noting that the conditions were very difficult and that was why he was going personally to coordinate the evacuation effort.
Meanwhile, two Greek passenger ships, the Hellenic Spirit and the Olympic Champion, set sail from the port of Benghazi at dawn Thursday with Greeks and citizens of other countries leaving Libya, and were due to arrive at the port of Heraklion, on the island of Crete, sometime after noon, while the Greek navy frigate Psara left a port in Crete at dawn Thursday and will remain off Libya on standby.

Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said that Greece is serving as a transit center for citizens of other countries leaving Libya, adding that, in collaboration with the Chinese government, Athens has undertaken the evacuation of some 13,000-15,000 Chinese citizens.