CAIRO – Intense shelling of Libya’s capital by the country’s rival, east-based forces killed three civilians Friday, the city’s health authorities said, the latest victims in a yearlong siege of Tripoli.
The offensive on Tripoli by forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar has only escalated over the past weeks, despite a chorus of calls for a cease-fire so the war-torn country’s weak health system can respond to the coronavirus pandemic. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has renewed his pleas for a cease-fire as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began Friday.
The Tripoli-based health ministry also said that along with the three fatalities, three African migrant workers were wounded in Friday’s attack on the neighborhood of Ain Zara and were being treated in the city’s field hospital.
The U.N.’s acting special envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, raised the alarm at a press conference on Thursday about the “horrible, intense shelling” of Tripoli’s densely populated neighborhoods. While attacks escalate, a round-the-clock curfew to slow the spread of coronavirus has trapped many inside their homes.
The violence has been described as some of the worst since the country slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Militias in western Libya, allied with the Tripoli government, said they launched airstrikes Friday on al-Waitya, a southwestern airbase they are pushing to seize from Haftar’s forces. The base is a gateway to western Libya and has been at the center of fighting in recent weeks.
Backed by armed Turkish drones, the western forces recently closed in on the town of Tarhuna, a bastion of support for Haftar. The ongoing siege of the town has displaced at least 3,000 civilians, according to U.N. estimates.
The pandemic may have grounded flights and closed borders around the world, but that has not stopped foreign backers on both sides of Libya’s conflict from sending weapons and mercenaries into the country via cargo flights and vessels, said the U.N. official.
“Libya has become an experimental field for all kinds of new weapon systems,” Williams said.
Haftar receives fighter jets and drones from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Russia has also deployed trained mercenaries in Libya through a private security contractor, the Wagner Group, to boost Haftar’s assault.