Clashes break out:
Battles erupted around Tripoli on Wednesday in the wake of the intense bombing of the Libyan capital, defying international appeals for a truce to tackle the coronavirus after confirming the first case in the country.
Calls for a cease-fire:
“The attacks and counter-attacks in Libya continue to cause more suffering and civilian casualties,” the UN mission said in a tweet calling for an immediate end to the violence.
Repel the attack:
The internationally recognized, legitimate al-Wefaq national government launched an operation on several fronts early in the day, including an attack on their opponent’s air base west of Tripoli.
But later on, Wednesday, illegal forces stationed in the east loyal to the revolutionary general Khalifa Haftar said their forces had moved from fending off the attack to seizing land near Zuwara, 45 kilometers north.
The worst bombing:
Residents of Tripoli, the headquarters of the National Accord government, said the shelling was the worst in weeks, as it shook windows in the city center, miles away from the front line in the southern suburb.
The renewed fighting comes despite mounting international pressure from both sides to stop the violence because of concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus. Libya reported its first HIV infection on Tuesday.
A dilapidated health system:
A week ago, the warring parties expressed their commitment to a humanitarian cessation of hostilities so that the authorities could focus on preventing the spread of the coronavirus. There are fears that the global epidemic will destroy war-torn Libya, as a decade-long conflict has destroyed major infrastructure and created an acute medical shortage.
Haftar’s forces launched their attack on Tripoli last April. Chaos in the oil-rich country has worsened in recent months as foreign supporters increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-level peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Haftar’s forces have been trying to capture the capital for almost a year, with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia. The National Accord government supports Turkey and Qatar.
Turkey has sent armored aircraft and air defenses to support the UN-backed Tripoli government. Meanwhile, Russia has deployed hundreds of mercenaries to bolster the Haftar offensive. The UAE and Egypt are also supporting Haftar with fighter planes, drones and mine-resistant vehicles.
A bombing attack by Haftar forces last week sparked condemnation of the United Nations after killing four girls and young women. On Tuesday, shells hit a prison in a government-controlled area of the National Accord, which also angered the United Nations.
Forces loyal to the National Accord government attacked the National Air Force base, 125 km west of Tripoli, and the nearest facility to the capital was in the hands of Haftar forces, early Wednesday, which resulted in violent clashes.
“In response to the fiercest bombing in Tripoli, we have launched a series of counter-attacks against Haftar,” Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohamed Jablawi said in a statement.
Al-Jabalawi referred to what he called “indiscriminate shelling” by Haftar forces after the two sides agreed to a ceasefire to deal with the coronavirus.
“The forces loyal to the Al-Wefaq government violated the truce,” said Ahmed Mesmari, a spokesman for Hifter’s forces. He said that Haftar’s forces repelled the attack and subsequently seized the areas of Zaltan, al-Jameel, al-‘Asa and Raqddin, near the town of Zuwara, which is controlled by the National Army.
A fighter in the forces loyal to the Al-Wefaq government said that the battle will continue. “It was a successful operation during progress and attack, and these operations will continue,” he said by phone.
An escalation in hostilities could lead to a catastrophe for Libya‘s fragmented health system, which is already lacking in dealing with the coronavirus, after authorities confirmed the first case of the disease late on Tuesday.
“The Libyans have suffered for years in this brutal conflict, and now they face yet another threat to their health and well-being,” said Elizabeth Hof, WHO representative in Libya.
According to the National Center for Disease Control in Tripoli, the only confirmed case of coronavirus so far is that of a 73-year-old man who crossed into Libya from neighboring Tunisia on March 5.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Libya expressed deep concern, warning that a possible outbreak may overshadow the response of aid already extended in Libya.
“The health and safety of all people in Libya, including 345,000 people from the most vulnerable groups, are at risk,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a complete ceasefire in conflicts around the world as governments and local authorities struggle with a pandemic that has spread to most countries.