CAIRO (AP) — The United Nations on Monday warned of rapidly escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Libya, which it said could amount to war crimes.
While the U.N. Mission in Libya did not identify a perpetrator, it detailed a “dramatic increase” of indiscriminate shelling on densely populated civilian areas in the capital, Tripoli, that killed five civilians and wounded 28 over the past few days. Eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter have been laying siege to Tripoli since last April, trying to wrest the city from the U.N.-backed government.
The fighting has settled into a chaotic stalemate. Buttressed by Turkish air power, Western militias allied with the beleaguered Tripoli government, known as the Government of National Accord, have even reversed the tide in recent weeks and regained lost ground along the western coast. GNA forces over the weekend attacked Tarhuna, the main western stronghold and supply line of Hifter’s forces 45 miles southeast of Tripoli.
Over the past weeks, Hifter’s forces have launched rockets at civilian targets, including health facilities. Intensified shelling of Tripoli has sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes despite a lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In the latest assault, Grad rockets launched by Hifter’s forces struck two field hospitals, wounding five medical workers on Monday, according to the Tripoli-based health ministry. Last week, the U.N. said, artillery shells damaged the intensive care unit of Tripoli’s Royal Hospital, a blow to an already strained health care system struggling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.N. also expressed concern about the fate of civilians in Tarhuna following the GNA’s military offensive. Without naming Western-based forces, it lamented arbitrary arrests, abuse of civilians and fighters and electricity and gas supply cut-offs, which it said amounted to “collective punishment” in the strategic city.
GNA forces claimed battlefield gains around Tarhuna, while Hifter’s forces said they thwarted the attack. Both sides reported killing and capturing rival militiamen.
The Tribal Council of Tarhuna released a statement on Monday that local official Sheikh Al-Abed Mohamed Al-Hadi and his sons had been shot dead when western militias stormed their home over the weekend, suggesting that fighters had committed other such crimes with impunity.
The U.N. renewed its plea for a humanitarian truce so Libyan authorities can address the COVID-19 health emergency, urging a halt to the increasing “indiscriminate” and “flagrant” attacks.