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Israel Warns Lebanese Civilians

Israel is warning that Lebanese living along a nearly 20-mile swath of land along the border should "immediately" flee the area for their own safety.

Israeli warplanes have already bombed large parts of southern Lebanon, which is says is the origin point for rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Friday, Israel said four of its soldiers - searching border areas for Hezbollah fighters, bases and weaponds - were killed in a gunbattle with Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon. Israel says several of its soldiers were wounded and Hezbollah also sustained losses.

Witnesses say Israeli forces resumed attacks on Lebanon at daybreak. One large explosion was heard in Beirut. The Al-Arabyia TV channel said the strike had targeted Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold that has been pounded by Israeli missiles over the past few days.

The Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera said one person was killed and another wounded in the airstrike – a report that has not been otherwise confirmed.

Witnesses and Hezbollah TV say Israeli aircraft targeted the town of Nabi Sheet in the eastern Bekaa valley, where Hezbollah guerillas have been known to operate. Hezbollah TV also reports Israeli airstrikes on a road and bridge near the southern port city of Tyre.

Thursday, Israeli troops met fierce resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas as they crossed into Lebanon to seek tunnels and weapons for a second straight day, and Israel has refused to rule out the possibility of a full scale invasion.

Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, commander of Israeli ground forces, gave no indication he was feeling any pressure to stop his attacks on south Lebanon. In fact, he said they would continue to try and eliminate Hezbollah's leaders.

In an interview with CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, Ganz said: "We try to hit the organization leadership as far as much as we can... We'll keep on trying. It's only Thursday."

Asked how long Israel's offensive against Lebanon could last, Ganz said, "It can reach months."

In other recent developments:

  • In Gaza, Israeli forces pulled out of a refugee camp, residents said, and the military confirmed that a two-day sweep was completed. In two days of battles in the Mughazi camp, Israeli forces killed at least 14 people, most of them militants. Residents said they left behind considerable destruction, tearing up water pipes and electricity wires.
  • CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan left Beirut Thursday and crossed the Litani River, a dividing line between Lebanon and Israel, into what is considered to be a no man's land — to the southern city of Tyre, just 12 miles from the Israeli border. He reports most residents were headed north, out of Tyre, with occupants dangling white flags in hopes of being spared an air strike.
  • The Israeli military said aircraft dropped 23 tons of explosives on what it believed was a bunker for senior Hezbollah leaders in Beirut between Wednesday night. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview on Al-Jazeera, "I can confirm without exaggerating or using psychological warfare, that we have not been harmed." Hezbollah claims the building destroyed was a mosque under construction, not a command center.
  • For the first time since 1984, U.S. Marines hit the beaches in Beirut Thursday to help evacuate thousands of fleeing Americans. The U.S. Embassy hoped to move twice as many people Thursday as it did Wednesday and then double again the number Friday, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.
  • The first evacuees from battle-scarred Lebanon arrived in the United States on Thursday, tired but relieved to be far away from window-shattering bombs and fiery explosions. About 150 people were aboard the DC-10, which landed at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport outside Washington. The passengers traveled from Cyprus to Manchester, England, and then to Baltimore in about 12 hours as part of a massive evacuation effort.
  • Israel's army dropped leaflets Thursday warning residents of attacks on homes believed to be hiding militant weapons as air and ground forces raided a Gaza refugee camp for a second day, killing three Palestinians.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an immediate halt in the escalating crisis in the Middle East. He criticized Israel for "excessive use of force" and said Hezbollah guerrillas "hold an entire nation hostage."
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "does intend to travel to the region, and she intends to travel to the region as early as next week," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack Thursday.
  • The House, displaying a foreign affairs solidarity lacking on issues like Iraq, voted overwhelmingly Thursday to support Israel in its confrontation with Hezbollah guerrillas. The resolution, which was passed on a 410-8 vote, also condemns enemies of the Jewish state.

    to hear a report from CBS News correspondent
    Robert Berger
    , on the scene with Israeli artillery crews.

  • A Hezbollah official says they are "fully ready" for an Israeli ground offensive, dismissing Israeli claims to have destroyed half the guerrillas' arsenal of missiles. Mahmoud Koumati, deputy leader of Hezbollah's political bureau, told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. the group has enough missiles to fight Israel for "long months."

    Appearing on Al-Jazeera Thursday, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah denied Israeli claims that 50 percent of his guerrillas' rocket arsenal has been destroyed.

    "Hezbollah has so far stood fast, absorbed the strike and has retaken the initiative and made the surprises that it had promised, and there are more surprises," he said, warning that a Hezbollah defeat would be "a defeat for the entire Islamic nation."

    Israeli troops crossed the border as part of ongoing operations to push back Hezbollah guerrillas, who have continued firing rockets into northern Israel despite more than a week of massive bombardment.

    Hezbollah guerrillas fired 25 rockets into Israel on Thursday. Although they caused no casualties, the continued rocket barrage raised the question of whether Israeli air power alone can suppress them.

    The guerrillas have been fighting back hard on the ground, wounding three Israeli soldiers. An Israeli unit sent in to ambush Hezbollah guerrillas also had a fierce gunbattle with a cell of militants.

    The Lebanese government is under international pressure to deploy troops in the south to rein in Hezbollah, but even before the fighting, many considered it too weak to do so without deeply fracturing the country.

    On Wednesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora appealed for a cease-fire, saying Lebanon "has been torn to shreds."

    Dallal said Israel had hit "1,000 targets in the last eight days, 20 percent were missile-launching sites and the rest were control and command centers, missiles and so forth."

    Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan insisted the Israeli army never targets civilians but has no way of knowing if they are in an area it is striking. "Civilians might be in the area because Hezbollah is operating from civilian territory," he said.

    He said that Hezbollah has fired more than 1,100 rockets at civilian areas in Israel since the fighting began and that 12 percent, or about 750,000 people, of Israel's population lives in areas that can be targeted by the guerrillas.

    The Israeli military said aircraft dropped 23 tons of explosives on what it believed was a bunker for senior Hezbollah leaders in the Bourj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

    Hezbollah said none of its members was hurt and denied a leadership bunker was in the area, saying a mosque under construction was hit. It has a headquarters compound in Bourj al-Barajneh that is off limits to Lebanese police and army, so security officials could not confirm the strike.