Hezbollah fighters yesterday took out two Israeli tanks, killing and wounding their crews, as they fought off an enemy attempt to take Marjayoun just five miles from the south Lebanon border.
The attempted assault on the Christian town began with a pre-dawn artillery barrage.
The town’s mayor said the Israeli artillery bombardment began at 3.30am, with shells striking a gas station and a house on the outskirts of the town.
Fierce clashes with Israeli ground troops backed by armoured vehicles continued around the town through yesterday.
The historic market town is in a strategic position on high ground near the Litani river and is the largest town in the south Bekkaa valley.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes continued their raids, hitting a historic lighthouse in densely-populated west Beirut and killing one man in the eastern Bekkaa Valley.
The disused lighthouse in the heart of the Lebanese capital was hit by Israeli strikes which damaged the top of the French colonial-era structure.
Local television showed live video of the damage, with part of the tower’s roof blown off.
The air strike was the first on Beirut proper since Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, issued a warning to Israel on August 4, saying that his fighters would fire rockets at Tel Aviv if Israel hit the Lebanese capital.
The push towards Marjayoun came hours after a column of Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles crossed into southern Lebanon on Wednesday evening from the Israeli town of Metulla.
The invading Israeli force moved under cover of artillery fire and air strikes, witnesses in the nearby village of Bourj al-Mulouk said.
Yesterday, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reported that at Khiam its fighters were also engaged in ‘a violent confrontation’ with Israeli forces whose tanks tried to advance towards the border town.
Lebanese military officials and UN observers confirmed that a vicious battle had broken out between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters in Khiam.
Elsewhere, dozens of Israeli soldiers were injured during fighting around Bint Jubayl, two kilometres from the border with Israel.
The Israeli Army also reported that it had sustained casualties in the Lebanese towns of Aita Al-Shaab and Debel.
On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah had warned the Israelis: ‘You will not be able to stay on our land. If you enter it, we will drive you out by force.
‘We will turn the land of our precious south into a graveyard for the Zionist invaders.’
The fighting in Marjayoun took place hours before Israeli cabinet minister Rafi Eitan said that the military would delay the expansion of its ground offensive, announced by the security cabinet on Wednesday.
Eitan told Israel Radio: ‘There are diplomatic considerations. There is still a chance that an international force will arrive in the area.’
• The British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Richards, yesterday expressed fears over the fierceness of the resistance.
He said some UK troops will be withdrawn from the southern Helmand province and replaced by puppet Afghan troops.
He added about the fierceness of the resistance: ‘This sort of thing hasn’t really happened so consistently, I don’t think, since the Korean War or the Second World War.
‘It happened for periods in the Falklands, obviously, and it happened for short periods in the Gulf on both occasions. But this is persistent low-level dirty fighting.’
He said British troops were engaged in ‘days and days of intense fighting, being woken up by yet another attack and they haven’t slept for 24 hours.’
Extra helicopters and equipment were required to cope, he added.
His remarks came as MPs raised concerns that the British operation in Afghanistan ‘was being done on a shoe string’.