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Relatives in Lebanon mourn victims of Israeli strikes, including a 5-year-old girl

Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr, a 5-year-old girl, lay her body to rest at the cemetery in Majdal Zoun, southern Lebanon, on Feb. 22. She lost her life during an Israeli attack. In recent weeks, Israel has intensified its airstrikes, penetrating deeper into Lebanon.
Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr, a 5-year-old girl, lay her body to rest at the cemetery in Majdal Zoun, southern Lebanon, on Feb. 22. She lost her life during an Israeli attack. In recent weeks, Israel has intensified its airstrikes, penetrating deeper into Lebanon.

Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon have exchanged attacks since the start of the war in Gaza in October, while keeping the fighting somewhat contained to areas near the countries' shared border. A stretch of about 3 miles of borderland has become a war zone, pushing more than 87,000 residents to flee their homes in southern Lebanon, according to the country's Public Health Ministry.

The fighting has also affected Israeli communities across the border, leading many residents to evacuate there as well. The conflict has left homes and civilian infrastructure destroyed on both sides.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas took credit Wednesday for launching as many as 40 rockets from Lebanon into Israel. And Israeli forces have threatened to step up their assault in Lebanon.

Relatives and friends mourn the seven members of the Berjawi family in Saksakiyeh, Lebanon, on Feb. 17.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Relatives and friends mourn the seven members of the Berjawi family in Saksakiyeh, Lebanon, on Feb. 17.
Amid the devastation, a young boy, initially reported missing, was found alive under the rubble by rescue teams in Nabatieh, Lebanon, after an Israeli airstrike the night of Feb. 14.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Amid the devastation, a young boy, initially reported missing, was found alive under the rubble by rescue teams in Nabatieh, Lebanon, after an Israeli airstrike the night of Feb. 14.
On Feb. 15, Samira Sabah clutches photographs of her friend who fell victim to an Israeli attack that claimed the lives of seven members of the Berjawi family and three Hezbollah members who were in the building, according to Lebanese local media.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
On Feb. 15, Samira Sabah clutches photographs of her friend who fell victim to an Israeli attack that claimed the lives of seven members of the Berjawi family and three Hezbollah members who were in the building, according to Lebanese local media.

Already in February, Israel has ramped up strikes over its northern border, hitting targets farther into Lebanon. The attacks claimed the lives of 14 civilians in two weeks in February, including women, children and paramedics, with Nabatieh, Majdal Zoun, Sidon and Blida the most severely affected areas, according to Lebanon's Public Health Ministry.

"What we have witnessed in these days, it's an expansion of the conflict more than an escalation in terms of numbers of shelling," says Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

On Feb. 17, relatives mourn the seven members of the Berjawi family who were killed in their home by Israeli rockets, in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
On Feb. 17, relatives mourn the seven members of the Berjawi family who were killed in their home by Israeli rockets, in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh.
Residents and relatives mourn the loss of seven members of the Berjawi family, on Feb. 17 in Nabatieh.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Residents and relatives mourn the loss of seven members of the Berjawi family, on Feb. 17 in Nabatieh.
Members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, Hezbollah's youth group, march to a graveyard to bury one of the seven members of the Berjawi family.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, Hezbollah's youth group, march to a graveyard to bury one of the seven members of the Berjawi family.

He says some of the attacks have reached areas far from the demarcation where Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, known as the Blue Line. "These recent events have been more targeted, causing loss of human lives and destruction of infrastructure," he adds. "It has jeopardized the livelihoods and changed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Blue Line."

Lebanon's Ministry of Public Health has confirmed at least 42 civilian deaths in southern Lebanon since the cross-border fighting began in October.

The victims include a 5-year-old girl named Amal Hassan al-Durr. On Feb. 21, she was playing outside her uncle's house with her mother and sister when she was killed during an Israeli attack in Majdal Zoun. The strike also killed Khadija Salman, a 40-year-old woman. The attack left a colossal crater and cast a cloud of deep sorrow over the village.

NPR could not confirm if relatives of the young girl or the woman who died were members of Hezbollah whom Israel may have intended to target in the attacks, but support for the Lebanese militia in the region is strong.

A warehouse fire rages after an Israeli strike in Sidon, Lebanon, on Feb. 19. Several people were injured in Israeli airstrikes south of Sidon a few days before. Israel said it targeted Hezbollah weapons depots, while Lebanese sources reported the attack hit a couple of warehouses. Over 20 people suffered injuries.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
A warehouse fire rages after an Israeli strike in Sidon, Lebanon, on Feb. 19. Several people were injured in Israeli airstrikes south of Sidon a few days before. Israel said it targeted Hezbollah weapons depots, while Lebanese sources reported the attack hit a couple of warehouses. Over 20 people suffered injuries.

The following day, hundreds of friends, relatives and Muslim clerics gathered in the small town to pay tribute to the victims. Israel said its forces were targeting a Hezbollah site, but locals insisted during the funeral that this area is purely residential and everyone here is a civilian. Amal's mother, Fardous Saeed, prayed heartbroken over her daughter's coffin with other relatives. As the mourning concluded at the cemetery and Amal's aunt placed a poster of the girl at the spot where she was killed, the disturbing hum of drones resumed overhead. Amal is the seventh child to be killed since Hezbollah and Israel started the cross-border conflict on Oct. 8, according to local media.

An empty cellphone case lies on the ground near where an Israeli airstrike hit in Majdal Zoun.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
An empty cellphone case lies on the ground near where an Israeli airstrike hit in Majdal Zoun.
Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr, the 5-year-old girl killed in an Israeli airstrike, mourn her loss at the graveyard in southern Lebanon.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr, the 5-year-old girl killed in an Israeli airstrike, mourn her loss at the graveyard in southern Lebanon.
Friends of Amal Hassan al-Durr visit the site where an airstrike took her life.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Friends of Amal Hassan al-Durr visit the site where an airstrike took her life.

The previous week, an Israeli airstrike in the Hezbollah stronghold of Nabatieh, about 30 miles north of the Naqoura region at the Lebanese-Israeli border, killed seven members of the Berjawi family in their home on the night of Feb. 14. It also killed three members of Hezbollah, including a senior commander of the group, Ali Muhammad al-Debs, Hezbollah and the Israeli army said.

And a Syrian woman and her two sons, ages 2 and 13, were killed in an airstrike in the Lebanese village of As-Sawana. Neighbors took to the streets in a display of solidarity for the loss of fellow residents.

In the current scenario, the slightest miscalculation could trigger a significant escalation that could lead Lebanon into a full-scale war with Israel, according to Tenenti, the UNIFIL spokesperson.

Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr grieve for her on Feb. 22 after she was killed during an Israeli attack the day before, in Majdal Zoun, Lebanon.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr grieve for her on Feb. 22 after she was killed during an Israeli attack the day before, in Majdal Zoun, Lebanon.
Muslim clerics, relatives and friends mourn the death of Khadija Salman in Majdal Zoun, on Feb. 22. A Hezbollah flag covers the coffin, in a region of Lebanon where support for the militia is strong.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Muslim clerics, relatives and friends mourn the death of Khadija Salman in Majdal Zoun, on Feb. 22. A Hezbollah flag covers the coffin, in a region of Lebanon where support for the militia is strong.
A young Lebanese boy holds a picture of Amal Hassan al-Durr, killed in an Israeli attack on Feb. 21, during her funeral the next day. A yellow Hezbollah flag was placed on Khadija Salman's casket by the party and a green AMAL flag on Amal Hassan al-Durr's casket.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
A young Lebanese boy holds a picture of Amal Hassan al-Durr, killed in an Israeli attack on Feb. 21, during her funeral the next day. A yellow Hezbollah flag was placed on Khadija Salman's casket by the party and a green AMAL flag on Amal Hassan al-Durr's casket.

Hezbollah asserts its role is to serve as a deterrent force with controlled attacks. Still, the militia's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made explicit threats in a televised address that Israel will pay "in blood" for civilian casualties. And Hezbollah has said it's willing to escalate fighting in response to an intensified Israeli offensive.

The recent deadly attacks serve as a stark reminder of the persistent risk that cross-border fighting could push Lebanon and Israel to the point of no return.

"We have urged the parties to cease fire and leave space for a political solution. The solution should not be military but diplomatic, and a lot of work has been done these days by several stakeholders to bring an end to these hostilities that could potentially trigger a much wider conflict," Tenenti says.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scouts and relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr carry her coffin to the cemetery on Feb. 22.
/ Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
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Diego Ibarra Sánchez for NPR
Scouts and relatives of Amal Hassan al-Durr carry her coffin to the cemetery on Feb. 22.

Diego Ibarra Sánchez