Beirut, Lebanon — Israel warned Beirut's residents Thursday that it plans to expand airstrikes against the city as the military pressed its offensive deeper inside Lebanon, moving tanks into the southern town of Marjayoun and striking a lighthouse in West Beirut in the first attack against the heart of the capital since July 15.
Despite an announcement by Israel that a major ground assault was on hold to allow more time for diplomacy, airstrikes continued around the country and fierce battles were reported in several southern border towns.
Early today, eight powerful explosions resounded across Beirut and local media reports said Israeli jets were pounding Hezbollah strongholds in the southern Dahieh suburb. The reports said border crossings in north and east Lebanon were also hit. Security officials and local media said 11 people were killed and 11 wounded at the Abboudiyeh border crossing into Syria, 70 miles northeast of Beirut, after jets struck a bridge.
Early Thursday, Israeli tanks rumbled into the town of Marjayoun, a strategic hilltop town overlooking the Litani River that served as Israel's headquarters during its 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon.
Lebanese government officials quoted by Arabic news channels said the Israeli troops were confronting fierce resistance from Hezbollah forces and had retreated into a Lebanese army barracks, where they were holding more than 300 soldiers and civilians hostage. Israel denied the report and said it was in control of the town, which is mostly Christian and not considered loyal to Hezbollah.
The new push came as Hezbollah sustained its rocket attacks against northern Israel, firing more than 160 missiles and killing one Israeli Arab civilian, while Israel continued its aerial attacks, conducting more than 150 raids against targets across Lebanon.
An Israeli soldier was killed in the border clashes, Israel said, and at least four Lebanese civilians died in airstrikes in the south, which has now been largely deserted after weeks of intense fighting.
Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets over southern Beirut telling residents of three neighborhoods to flee and warning that "the Israel Defense Forces intend to expand their operations in Beirut."
"Anywhere (Hezbollah) is found, they are launching rockets or people are helping them is a target," said the leaflets.
Leaflets also were dropped over northern Lebanon warning that any traffic attempting to use the coastal road leading to the border after 8 p.m. would be considered a target, in an effort to further isolate Lebanon by cutting its links to Syria. The road north is now the only way in and out of the country.
Since large swaths of Beirut's mostly Shiite southern suburbs were destroyed in waves of successive airstrikes in the first 10 days of the war, the city has mostly been left alone. Shortly after the warning, panicked residents began fleeing the three neighborhoods named; Borj-al Barajneh, Hay al-Salloum and Shiyah.