Heavy shelling by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces has killed at least five civilians in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, according to the country’s United Nations-recognised government.
The violence on Monday came despite increased international pressure to halt the fighting over mounting concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus in the war-ravaged country amid the continuing pandemic.
Mortar shells launched by the eastern-based forces led by Haftar struck houses in Tripoli’s southern suburbs, killing a 42-year-old woman and her nephew, said Amin al-Hashemi, a spokesman for the health ministry of the Government of National Accord (GNA).
In another mortar barrage near the capital’s Mitiga airport, two migrant workers were killed and one Libyan civilian was wounded, the health ministry added. A 20-year-old woman was also killed when errant shells crashed into her house in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Haftar, whose forces control much of the country and have been laying siege to the capital for almost a year, accused the Tripoli-based adversaries of firing grad rockets on Monday on the town of Tarhuna.
The attacks came just days after the warring parties expressed commitment to a humanitarian pause in fighting so authorities could focus on preventing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Libya has not confirmed any cases of the virus, but public health officials fear the pandemic could devastate the war-torn country. The conflict has ravaged key infrastructure and created dire shortages of medical supplies.
Yacoub El Hillo, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said on Sunday that the “timing could not be worse” for the coronavirus to loom over Libya. Echoing calls by a number of world powers, he urged a “complete cessation of hostilities” so health authorities could ensure unhindered access to aid and boost protective measures.
Libya has been mired in conflict since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, with rival administrations in the east and the west vying for power.
The North African country ranks 168th of 195 nations worldwide in preparedness for a health crisis, according to the Global Health Security Index, a project of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.