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Israel Warns South Beirut Residents to Leave


Israeli war planes blanketed three Shi'ite suburbs of Beirut Thursday with leaflets warning of a painful and strong response to Hezbollah attacks, and urging residents to evacuate. Earlier, an Israeli missile hit an old lighthouse in West Beirut, injuring three people.

The leaflets, signed, "the State of Israel," fell in the densely populated suburbs of Hay El-Sollum, Burj El-Barajneh and Shiyah. They warned residents to immediately evacuate these areas for their own safety. Hundreds of families heeded the warning, and were leaving the southern suburbs, some in cars, and others on buses provided by the government.

Lebanese officials say they are concerned about where they are going to house the additional displaced people, because schools that are being used as shelters are already over-crowded. Mohammed Chattah, is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

"The refugee problem is already extremely bad, so this will only make things worse," he said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli missile targeted an old lighthouse in West Beirut damaging the structure.

Police said three people were injured. The mid-day strike was in a heavily guarded neighborhood that houses the Saudi Arabian Embassy, a university and the family home of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

To the north of Beirut, Israeli planes dropped more leaflets, warning trucks to stay off the coastal highway after 8 p.m. local time (1700 UTC) or face attack. The road links northern Lebanon with Syria, and the leaflets said vehicles out after the curfew would be suspected of carrying rockets and supplies for Hezbollah.

In southern Lebanon, heavy fighting was reported between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas, as Israeli forces took control of the town of Marjayoun. The mostly Christian town sits about 10 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border.

As Israel pressed deeper into south Lebanon, Lebanese official Mohammed Chattah said diplomatic efforts to end the conflict are continuing around-the-clock.

"I think some constructive work has taken place, and I cannot say we have a clear path to a cease-fire, but, definitely, we are moving, and, hopefully, in the coming hours and few days, we will see real progress that we can report," he said.

In the meantime, the humanitarian situation is worsening. Officials say fuel shortages are becoming critical. The spokesman for the U.N. force in south Lebanon says its fuel supplies will run out within 48 hours. And the World Health Organization has warned that, if fuel is not delivered this week, 60 percent of all hospitals in Lebanon will cease to function.

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