Libya gov’t warns of escalation after attacks near embassies

CAIRO (AP) — The head of Libya’s U.N.-supported government on Friday warned of an escalation in the battle for Tripoli after rockets struck near foreign embassies in the capital, drawing sharp condemnation from the European Union and United Nations.

The Tripoli-based health ministry said an attack late Thursday killed at least three civilians and wounded four others when rockets struck near the perimeter of the Italian ambassador’s residence in the crowded neighborhood of Zawiat al-Dahmani. Earlier on Thursday, five civilians were reported killed in shelling of two other city neighborhoods.

The U.N. again raised alarm that ordinary Libyans are bearing the brunt of an increasingly deadly siege by eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter, calling the actions “despicable” and “a direct challenge” to peace efforts.

In the attack on Zawiat al-Dahmani, two policemen guarding a Libyan government building died, along with a civilian who happened to be on the street, said the ministry’s spokesman, Amin al-Hashemi. Four more civilians suffered shrapnel wounds, he said, including a medic with the Libyan Red Crescent.

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The European Union denounced the assault “in the strongest possible terms,” saying Friday that such indiscriminate strikes “run counter to the respect for human life and international humanitarian law.”

The U.N. Mission in Libya said it was documenting the violations to share with the International Criminal Court.

The U.S. Embassy echoed the concerns, urging the warring sides to focus their efforts on combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj’s office said he spoke with the ambassadors of Italy and Turkey on Friday to ensure they were unscathed by the attack.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Hifter’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, denied they had violated international law, saying the forces have always sought to shield diplomatic sites from the violence of their siege. He accused unspecified “terrorists” of trying to turn international public opinion against Hifter’s campaign.

Hifter’s foreign-backed forces launched a push last year to capture Tripoli from Sarraj’s government. The fighting has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced over 150,000, threatening to push Libya into a major conflagration on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

As the Tripoli fighting rages, migration from Libya’s shores to Europe is also increasing. A dinghy that set out carrying 25 migrants earlier this week was intercepted late Thursday by the Libyan Coast Guard.

The guard brought the migrants to the port in Tripoli but everyone on board was forced to wait till the shelling of the city subsided. Eventually, the migrants disembarked and were taken to one of Libya’s detention facilities notorious for torture and abuse, the U.N. migration agency said Friday.

Commodore Masoud Abdal Samad, a Libyan Coast Guard commander, said that his forces provided medical aid to the desperate migrants while they waited. “Then we handed them over to the immigration police,” he said.

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