Leaflets being dropped into the Lebanese port city of Tyre today and yesterday by Israeli aircraft have warned all residents that anything that moves in the city will be bombed.

The Guardian newspaper, with correspondents on the ground in Tyre, filed the following report:

Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over Tyre yesterday morning, warning people not to use vehicles south of the Litani river, heightening the city’s sense of isolation.

All roads north and south of the port city have been cut by bombing in the last few days and Israeli authorities have refused permission for any ships to dock.

The travel ban had no time limit and mentioned no exceptions, even for ambulances and humanitarian convoys. Addressed to "Lebanese civilians south of the Litani River", it said: "Read this carefully and follow its instructions. The Israeli Defence Forces will escalate their operations and will strike with force against terrorist elements who are using you as human shields and firing rockets from inside your homes against Israel…" All vehicles would be bombed the letter said. It was signed "State of Israel".

The warning had an immediate effect. The city’s streets virtually emptied yesterday. Most shops were shuttered, and there were few pedestrians on the pavements along the main roads. Only in the alleys of the medieval quarter was there an occasional group of people on chairs outside their front doors.

"I don’t have any food for customers," said Abu Ali, a cafe owner. "My wife and children have gone to Beirut. No one’s sleeping. They’re constantly planning what to do if anything happens". He hinted that if the Israelis entered the town, he would fight them. "I’m a civilian who’s ready for anything, day or night," he said. Asked if he had a gun, he repeated his comment.

Standing by his sandwich shop, Houssam Nasser said: "We normally get supplies of bread and meat every day. Now they’ve stopped. I’ll keep my shop open but won’t have anything to sell." But he was not planning to leave in spite of the siege.

At the police station, a detective said staff had not been able to move. The government had ordered all police to stay on their jobs, even if they sent their families away, but with the travel ban they could not work properly. "I don’t how long this will last. It’s the Israelis who decide," he said.

Local and international humanitarian organisations tried to get exemption from the travel ban by applying to the Israeli authorities for permission to go out on urgent missions. Yusuf Khairalla, Tyre’s civil defence supervisor, said the city was isolated. "This is the first time this has happened," he said.

His team was denied permission to travel to Maroub, about 10 miles outside the city, to rescue five people from under the rubble of a bombed house.

At the clinic staffed by Médecins sans Frontières Dr Martial Ledecq, a surgeon, was sterilising equipment brought in from Beirut on Monday. The boxes had to be carried along a footbridge across the Litani river by volunteers because Israel destroyed the causeway on Sunday night, cutting Tyre off from road traffic.

"If there is fighting in town, we will be ready for operations. You will have noticed that the main hospitals are all on the eastern edge of town. We are the only one in the centre", Dr Ledecq said.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was forced to walk across the footbridge on a visit to Tyre yesterday. Access for civilians was his major concern, he said, a point he would emphasise during meetings in Israel today.

With southern Lebanon now a virtual prison, the most fortunate people are the region’s official prisoners. "We evacuated all 80 of them from Tibnin prison a week ago. They are safe now in Beirut," said a detective at the police station.

*this article was reprinted from guardian.co.uk