Libya death toll rises to 205 as Tripoli fighting continues: WHO

WHO says it has deployed more staff as UN-recognised government seeks international action against Khalifa Haftar.

    Forces from Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an assault nearly two weeks ago to seize Tripoli [File: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]
    Forces from Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an assault nearly two weeks ago to seize Tripoli [File: Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

    At least 205 people have been killed in the battle for control of the Libyan capital Tripoli, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, as the United Nations-recognised government said it would seek the prosecution of renegade military leader Khalifa Haftar in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

    Libya's unity government issued an arrest warrant for General Haftar for allegedly ordering deadly air attacks against civilian areas.

    Six of Haftar's officers were also named in the warrant, which was issued by the military prosecutor general and published by the unity government's press office. 

    The United Nations(UN)-affiliated WHO said in a post on Twitter it had deployed medical specialists to support front-line hospitals as the recent fighting had also left more than 900 wounded.

    According to WHO, at least 18 civilians were among those killed in the fighting that broke out on April 4 when Haftar launched an offensive to take Tripoli, which is controlled by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

    WHO said it was keeping medical and surgical teams deployed at field hospitals near the front lines as Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) remained in the capital's southern outskirts and battled armed groups loyal to the government.

    Meanwhile, on Thursday, armed groups attacked a major airbase in southern Libya that is controlled by the LNA. The Tamanhint base near Sabha is the main base in southern Libya, which the LNA seized earlier this year.

    Fighting was continuing at the base, Sabha Mayor Hamid Rafaa al-Khiyali and an eastern military official said, without giving more details.

    The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear.

    ICC probe

    More than 25,000 people have been displaced by the clashes, including 4,500 over the past 24 hours, the International Organization for Migration said on Wednesday.

    During a tour of the Tripoli neighbourhoods worst hit by the rocket fire on Tuesday, GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj said the UN Security Council must hold Haftar to account for his forces' "savagery and barbarism".

    "It's the legal and humanitarian responsibility of the Security Council and the international community to hold this criminal responsible for his actions," al-Sarraj said in footage of the tour released by his office.

    He said his government would seek Haftar's prosecution for war crimes by the ICC in The Hague.

    Haftar has concentrated his forces near Tripoli, using mainly the Jufrah airbase but also Tamanhint to fly in material and send it on by road up north towards the Mediterranean coast.

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    The LNA seized Libya's sprawling south with its two main oilfields earlier this year, although tribesmen with flexible loyalties remain strong in the sparsely populated desert region.

    Fighting continues

    The UN's Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, warned on Thursday of "a widening conflagration" in the North African country, saying international divisions had encouraged Haftar to launch his assault on Tripoli.

    Despite days of heaving fighting, Salame told AFP news agency there was a stalemate south of the capital.

    "After the very first successes of the Libyan National Army two weeks ago, we are witnessing a military deadlock," he said.

    The resurgence of open conflict in Libya threatens to disrupt oil flows, increase migration across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, and allow armed groups to exploit the chaos.

    Benghazi-based Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which view him as an anchor to restore stability.

    French support?

    In Europe, France has given Haftar support in the past, viewing him as the best bet to end Libya's disorder.

    However, on Thursday France said it supported the government in Tripoli after that authority accused it of backing Haftar in eastern Libya and said it would cut security cooperation with Paris.

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    "As we have already stated on several occasions, France supports the legitimate government of Prime Minister Sarraj and the mediation of the UN for an inclusive political solution in Libya," a French presidential official said.

    "Furthermore, the president's legitimate interlocutor is Prime Minister Sarraj, with whom the president spoke on Monday to reaffirm this support." 

    Italy, the ex-colonial power with extensive oil holdings in Libya, backs the Tripoli government of al-Sarraj and fumed over French reluctance to endorse a recent European Union resolution urging Haftar to halt his advance.

    Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned on Thursday the deteriorating situation in Libya could lead to an upsurge in violence.

    "The situation of chaos and violence strongly increases the risk of a resurgence of the terrorist phenomenon, which is still present in Libya," Conte told parliament.

    "The fight against terrorism and the flow of foreign fighters ... remains, therefore, one of the principal challenges facing the country and the entire international community," he said.

    Al-Sarraj's government views the 75-year-old Haftar as a dangerous would-be dictator.

    The UN Security Council has been considering a British-drafted resolution that would demand a ceasefire and urge all nations with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance.

    SOURCE: News agencies