South Lebanon mourns seventh child killed in Israeli strike as border conflict increases

The killing of five-year-old Amal has sparked outrage and sorrow in the country

Civilian death toll rises in Lebanon

Civilian death toll rises in Lebanon
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“What can I say about Amal? What can I possibly say? Look at her eyes; they speak for themselves,” Fardous Saeed lamented, staring at a picture of her five-year-old daughter, Amal Al Dorr, who was killed by an Israeli air strike on Wednesday in Majdal Zoun, in southern Lebanon.

On Friday, family members came to offer their condolences at the family's residence in Tyre. The southern Lebanese port city has been largely spared from the continuing exchanges of fire between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah which began on October 8 when the Lebanese militant group opened a new front against Israel, amid the devastating war in Gaza.

The family living room is crowded with women mourning the death of the little girl in a solemn atmosphere, yet Ms Saeed, hunched over the picture of her daughter, is not paying attention to her surroundings.

She has only eyes for Amal’s picture, which she is addressing in a litany, interrupted only by uncontrollable tears.

“Oh my God, my love, please come visit me in my dreams. You used to call me, ‘my heart’, but don’t call me 'my heart' when you come, because my heart has died, Amal. They buried my heart. It's gone. I’m just a body without a soul.”

Her voice cracks into a desperate wail.

“I’m only standing for your sisters, Zaynouba and Mariam, who witnessed your death, who saw me carrying you. I hope they forget everything she saw. Has anyone else carried their daughter like I did? My heart, you were only five,” she said, holding her two daughters, who survived the attack.

Amal is the seventh child killed by Israel in Lebanon as the border conflict increases and civilian casualties mount. Hezbollah is allied to Hamas in Gaza, where Israel has mounted a ground invasion amid relentless bombardment, killing more than 29,600 Palestinians following Hamas' surprise attack on Israel on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people.

Four months into the conflict, Israel has intensified its strikes deeper inside Lebanon amid accusations of “unlawful strikes” and “apparent indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilians,” according to Human Rights Watch.

“I hope no one else loses their child like I did. I'm willing to suffer alone from now on, as long as I'm the last one. Amal, my love, my soul, my daughter, my everything, what more can I say about Amal?” the mother repeats, tightly clutching the girl's picture until a piercing wail from another mourner who just entered the room interrupts her.

'There is no safety any more'

Amal and her family fled Majdal Zoun, a small town located only a couple of kilometres from the border, to Tyre in the early stages of the Lebanon-Israel border conflict, her family told The National. They are among 70,000 displaced from the southern border, who sought refuge in safer areas.

But, four months into the war, as a fragile calm settled over the village with most residents choosing to stay, Amal’s family decided to return for a holiday to visit their relatives.

“Amal insisted on visiting us, she said she missed us. The weather was nice, she wanted to play,” her aunt, Manal Al Dorr, recalls. Amal, her parents, and sisters were visiting Ms Al Dorr when the strike happened.

“I hugged her, kissed her, and played with her in the house,” Ms Al Dorr says. “Then she said goodbye and she left the house to get lunch at her grandmother’s.”

At that moment, an Israel strike completely flattened an inhabited building next to Ms Al Dorr, killing the little girl and neighbour, Khadija Salman, who were sitting outside with Amal’s mother and sisters.

“Everything happened in a second. And she was gone.”

Ms Al Dorr rushed outside her house to find a scene of chaos, filled with smoke, blood, and destruction, she said. Amal was seriously wounded. “When I saw her, I knew she would not survive.” She later succumbed to her injuries.

“There is no safety any more. We used to be stronger, but now we’re scared,” she says, her voice suddenly stopping as a distant blast sounded and smoke billowed from the hills in the background. Mourners rushed to the balcony to see what had happened. Israel had just struck a border town. “We’re used to it now,” the aunt shrugs.

Tyre is safer than the southern border, which is pounded every day by Israel, but the looming threat of full-scale war is constantly reminded to residents by the distant Israeli shelling.

Cross-border violence has killed 276 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters, but also 44 civilians, according to an AFP tally. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

“The blood of Amal is a symbol of Israel's continuing crimes,” Amal's uncle, Hassan told The National.

“We don't want war; we love life. We're only defending ourselves from those who are killing our innocent children. Amal represents all of the Lebanese people, and we hope she's the last victim for our country,” he added, his eyes reddened by emotion.

'We are all civilians'

Majdal Zoun had been targeted before, but locals in the village said that the past couple of weeks were calm. They were stunned by the sudden attack on Wednesday in the village, the most brutal yet. According to them, the small town is a residential village with no Hezbollah fighters present.

“It's a huge shock for everyone; it's like the whole neighbourhood has lost a daughter,” says a neighbour and friend of Amal's mother. Her house was also damaged in the strike. Pregnant, she sustained light injuries in the attack.

The conversation is punctuated by shelling a few kilometres away, amid the constant sound of drones flying at low altitudes.

“Be careful, they are targeting everyone, just like they're targeting us. We're all civilians here,” she adds, standing a few metres from where the girl was killed. Her mother's phone case and swathes of red fabric are still scattered on the ground, with traces of what appears to be blood.

The Israeli army said it had hit “a Hezbollah operational command centre in the area of Mansouri”, a village a few kilometres from Majdal Zoun. It said it was “reviewing” claims that civilians were killed as a result of its air strike.

Hezbollah said it responded to “Israeli attacks on civilian villages and homes, especially … in Majdal Zoun”, by firing Katyusha rockets at Matzuva, a kibbutz over the border in northern Israel.

With hostilities at the border showing no immediate signs of ending, and diplomatic negotiations seemingly stalled, civilian casualties seem bound to rise further. This does not discourage some, like Said, 73, who is a neighbour and friend of the family. “I will stay here no matter what happens,” he says.

Updated: March 03, 2024, 9:39 PM