At least 42 people have been killed and dozens wounded in an air raid in southern Libya, an official said, as the United-Nations recognised government blamed forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar for the attack.
The Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, condemned the drone attack in a statement on Monday, saying the raid struck the residential district of Qalaa in the town of Murzuq the day before.
Sunday’s attack left “42 dead and more than 60 injured, 30 of them critically,” municipal council official Ibrahim Omar told AFP news agency.
He said a government building at which more than 200 local dignitaries were gathered “to settle social differences” was targeted three times.
“No armed or wanted people were among them … Haftar bombed unarmed civilians,” he said, calling for humanitarian aid since the local hospital could not cope with the high number of casualties.
The attack is the second major air raid blamed on the Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) after at least 44 migrants and refugees were killed in June when a detention centre in a suburb of the capital, Tripoli, was hit.
The LNA, which is allied to a rival administration in the country’s east, confirmed a strike late on Sunday on Murzuq, but denied it had targeted any civilians.
Haftar’s forces seized Murzuq at the start of this year as part of an offensive to control the oil-producing south. But it later moved out to concentrate forces north where it has been trying to take the capital Tripoli in a four-month campaign.
The LNA said in a statement its strike had targeted “Chadian opposition fighters”, a phrase that usually refers to Tebu tribesmen opposing them in the area.
The European Union, which has previously called for those breaching international law in Libya to be brought to justice, condemned the strike.
“Indiscriminate attacks on densely populated residential areas may amount to war crimes and must cease immediately,” it said in a statement.
With fighting for Tripoli stalled on the ground after initial advances by Haftar’s forces, the two sides have increasingly taken their fight to the skies with warplanes and drones.
Aviation officials said on Monday that a Libyan passenger plane had narrowly escaped being hit by incoming fire as it landed at Tripoli’s sole functioning airport.
“The crew on the flight from Benghazi, which was carrying 124 passengers, avoided being hit by bombing on Mitiga International Airport” on Sunday, the airport’s management wrote on Facebook.
The incident forced the airport to close to air traffic and re-route flights to Misrata, some 200 kilometres further east, until late Sunday night.
The origin of the bombs was not clear, and no side has yet claimed responsibility.
The office of the United Nation’s envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame condemned the “repeated indiscriminate shelling” of Mitiga on Sunday, describing it as “the only indispensable functioning airport available for use by millions of civilians” and aid deliveries.
Mitiga has closed several times since the start of the assault by Haftar, who has accused pro-GNA forces of using it for military purposes including as a launch site for Turkish attack drones.
The World Health Organization says the battle for Tripoli has left nearly 1,100 people dead and wounded more than 5,750, while forcing more than 100,000 civilians to flee their homes.
Libya has remained beset by turmoil since 2011, when long-serving leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in a bloody NATO-backed uprising.