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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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