Amid clashes, UN evacuates 350 more refugees detained in Tripoli

A total of 675 people have been evacuated from detention facilities near the Libyan capital since Wednesday.

    About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN [Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]
    About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN [Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]

    The United Nations has evacuated 350 more refugees from a detention centre in southern Tripoli amid escalating violence near the Libyan capital.

    The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, which is allied to a rival government in eastern Libya, mounted an offensive on Tripoli earlier this month, but has so far failed to breach the city's southern defences.  

    The group of refugees could be seen travelling on Thursday in buses to a detention centre in Zawiya, a town 40km west of the capital, bringing the total evacuated since Wednesday to around 675. 

    The refugees came from a facility in the Qasr bin Ghashir district run by the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, an area that has become the main theatre of the ongoing fighting. 

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    The move was triggered by reports on Tuesday of the use of armed violence against detainees who were protesting against the conditions in which they were being held, UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday. At least 12 refugees required hospital treatment after being attacked, the UN said. 

    About 3,000 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN, and remain at risk from the "deteriorating security situation" around the capital. Many of the detainees fled war and persecution in their home countries.

    Clashes continue

    Meanwhile, a Reuters news agency reporter in the suburb of Ain Zara, also in southern Tripoli, saw heavy clashes, with both sides using artillery and anti-aircraft guns.

    Forces loyal to the government in Tripoli have managed to push back the LNA on some southern front lines, though the LNA was still fighting in southern Tripoli. The Tripoli forces have gained ground in some parts of Ain Zara. 

    Gunfire rang through a narrow street packed with pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns as fighters allied to Tripoli forces shouted: "Haftar, we are coming." 

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    One fighter from Zintan, a region west of the capital, was firing his anti-aircraft gun for several minutes. Later, he was killed by an incoming rocket, his comrades told Reuters. 

    Two others from the same armed group died later as shelling from the battle in southern suburbs could be heard in central Tripoli late at night, witnesses said. 

    The LNA still holds the forward base of Gharyan, a town 80km south of Tripoli, which is difficult to take due to its mountainous terrain.

    Hospitals are struggling with a chronic shortage of medical supplies amid power outages and weakened water pumping stations, the aid agency said in a statement after three weeks of clashes. 

    "It is crucial that hospitals, medical facilities, health staff and vehicles transporting the wounded are allowed to carry out their activities safely," said the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement. 

    The World Health Organization said on Twitter that 278 people have been killed in the last three weeks, while 1,332 others have been wounded. 


    SOURCE: Reuters news agency