CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s eastern-based forces trying to capture the country’s capital bombed civilian homes on Friday, killing at least two people, health authorities in the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli said.
The intensified bombardment of the city by forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter came just days after their unilateral cease-fire declared for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Tripoli-based government rejected the overture, blaming their rivals for sabotaging past peace efforts.
The health ministry in Tripoli also said that three civilians, including a woman, were wounded when rockets crashed through their roofs in the Zinata neihborhood, burying them under the rubble.
Hifter’s so-called Libyan Arab Armed Forces launched their assault on Tripoli last year, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. For months his forces, bolstered by shipments of powerful missiles, jets and drones, held an advantage over the coalition of fractious militias defending the beleaguered Tripoli government. But Turkey’s escalating military support for the U.N.-supported administration has recently shifted momentum of the conflict.
Western forces have thwarted Hifter’s advances, recaptured coastal cities near the Tunisian border, attacked Hifter’s key western airbase and tightened their siege on his stronghold of Tarhuna. On Friday, their Facebook page reported launching at least three airstrikes on fuel tankers supplying Hifter’s forces and a convoy of loyal militiamen.
On both sides, fighting has taken a heavy toll on civilians. While Hifter’s forces fire into densely populated neighborhoods and even target medical facilities — at least eight times last month, the World Health Organization reported — the forces defending Tripoli have displaced at least 3,100 civilians from Tarhuna and killed over a dozen in Turkish drone attacks last month.
The idea of a meaningful compromise between east and west Libya has become even more far-fetched following Hifter’s dismissal this week of the 2015 U.N.-brokered unity deal.
Meanwhile, as the intractable conflict and the coronavirus pandemic loom over Libya, the migrants who pass through the war-torn coastal country hoping to get to Europe are uniquely vulnerable.
On Friday, the U.N. migration agency said 51 migrants, including three women and two children, were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard in the Mediterranean Sea and returned to the western city of Zawiya. Some 30 people, among them a pregnant woman, were taken to a detention center, while the rest managed to escape, according to IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli.
Libya, a major conduit for migrants fleeing war and poverty across Africa and the Middle East, is notorious for its crowded and filthy detention centers run by militias and rife with abuse. Over 1,500 migrants are currently detained, says the IOM, many with limited access to clean water and food.
With temperatures rising and the war worsening, the U.N. refugee agency has reported an increase in migrant departures from Libya despite a lack of rescue missions along the precarious central Mediterranean route. All charity rescue vessels have halted operations because of COVID-19 restrictions, while Malta has announced its resources are too strained by the pandemic to conduct rescues.