CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s east-based military forces fired into residential neighborhoods of the country’s besieged capital with heavy weapons, killing four civilians on Friday, including an elderly man and a teenager, according to Tripoli health officials.
“The humanitarian situation is catastrophic, terrifying, really,” said health ministry official Amin al-Hashemi.
Despite appeals for a freeze in the fighting so that authorities can confront the coronavirus pandemic, “the shelling has not stopped for hours, it is only increasing,” he said.
On Friday, artillery rounds crashed into houses across from the prominent Royal Health Clinic in southern Tripoli, killing a 16-year-old boy and wounding his mother and two younger brothers, aged 12 and 8, said health ministry spokesman Malek Merset. In the Souk al-Juma neighborhood of Tripoli, one man was killed when a Grad rocket struck his home, and four others wounded, including a woman, he added.
In a western Tripoli neighborhood, a 70-year-old man was killed and four members of the same family wounded when shells hit grocery stores and surrounding homes, said al-Hashemi. A shelter for civilians who fled fighting in other parts of the city also came under fire, killing one 40-year-old man and wounding two policemen.
The fighting over Tripoli erupted last April, when forces under the east-based commander Khalifa Hifter launched a campaign to seize the capital from the U.N.-backed government. In recent weeks, Hifter’s forces have escalated their use of Grad rockets and artillery shells in Tripoli’s densely populated neighborhoods. The weapons by their nature cannot be fired precisely and place civilians at grave risk.
The intensifying assault drew condemnation from the United Nations, where spokesman Stephane Dujarric appealed for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds to slow the spread of the virus. The majority of Libya’s 49 infections have been reported in Tripoli and the western city of Misrata.
The U.N.-backed government, which controls just a corner of the country’s west, imposed a lockdown on Friday in its most sweeping anti-virus measure yet, warning that violators who venture out after curfew hours would be penalized. But while the virus may lurk in streets and public spaces, Tripoli residents increasingly do not feel safe in their homes either.
“A humanitarian pause is urgently required,” said Dujarric, noting that the U.N. had recorded at least 131 civilian casualties, including 64 deaths, in just the first three months of this year.