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Israel Hits Tower In Beirut, Warns Of More Bombing

A family waits on a corner as they and hundreds of other residents of a southern Beirut neighborhood prepare to evacuate in anticipation of Israeli airstrikes.
A family waits on a corner as they and hundreds of other residents of a southern Beirut neighborhood prepare to evacuate in anticipation of Israeli airstrikes. (By Spencer Platt -- Getty Images)

After an Israeli cabinet decision Wednesday to authorize the military to expand its operations in southern Lebanon, officials said Thursday they would not move ahead with the acceleration for at least a few more days to give the diplomacy at the United Nations more time.

"The combination of operational decisions and the speeding up of the diplomatic process is the right combination," Defense Minister Amir Peretz said at a briefing. "We must be at peace with ourselves the moment the troops go into the field."

But Peretz said that if the diplomatic efforts fail, "we'll use all the tools" necessary so that residents of northern Israel do not have to stay in bomb shelters, "and that's an unequivocal decision."

Israeli warplanes kept up their bombing campaign to prevent Hezbollah from moving munitions and other supplies over Lebanon's roads. One civilian was killed during a strike on a road in the Bekaa Valley, a major transit route for supplies coming via Syria on their way to the southern Lebanon battlefields, according to Lebanese news reports. Another man was killed as he rode a motorcycle near Tyre, they said.

As part of the interdiction effort, Israeli planes also dropped leaflets in northern Lebanon warning truck drivers to stay off the roads to Syria. Similar leaflets have been fluttering down across southern Lebanon for days, meaning large sections of the country are in effect closed to traffic under threat of attack from the air.

[On Friday, border crossings in north and east Lebanon were hit, the AP cited local news reports as saying. 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 busy bridge, the AP reported.]

Thursday's missiles in Beirut, which police said were fired by two helicopter gunships, struck an unused tower that once broadcast Radio Orient. Beirut residents said it has been unused for years and has mainly historical value, because it was constructed by the French in an earlier era. A small building next to it stood empty.

Nasrallah, in his warning last week, did not specify what he would consider an attack on Beirut that would warrant the firing of missiles at Tel Aviv, Israel's most populous city. The radio tower hit Thursday stood near Lebanese American University, part of a newer section of Beirut about two miles from the historic city center that was renovated recently.

Police said the missiles appeared to be small, precision-guided weapons. Although they cracked loudly across the city -- rattling glass, sending residents running and some crying in fear -- only one policeman was reported slightly wounded.

The leaflets, addressed to "the citizens of Beirut," were dropped a short time later in most of the city. In addition to the general warning of more extensive bombing and the implication that civilians would suffer as well as Hezbollah fighters, they warned residents of three suburbs to leave their homes immediately "for your own safety."

The three areas -- Hai Sulim, Burj al Barajinah and Al Shiyah -- abut the suburb of Dahiya, which is controlled by Hezbollah and has been pounded day after day since the conflict erupted July 12 with a Hezbollah commando raid into Israel.

"Beware," the leaflets said. "The broadening of terrorist operations by Hezbollah will lead to a painful and severe response whose results will not be limited to the bandit Hasan [Nasrallah] and his criminals."

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