Some seven civilians have been killed and dozens more wounded in the eastern Libyan city of Derna yesterday, as General Khalifa Haftar’s forces claimed victory over the city after weeks of fighting “terrorists”.
Derna has witnessed intensified clashes since the beginning of this month between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and armed militias known as the Derna Protection Force (DPF). Whilst casualty numbers have been difficult to verify, unconfirmed reports indicate that over 30 people have been injured, including one woman who was reportedly hit by indiscriminate shelling.
“We have liberated Derna despite the siege of the international community on our force and the ban of arms. We have defeated terrorists and extremists in eastern Libya,” the Interim Government said in a post on Facebook, stating that all LNA operations had concluded in the area.
However, scores of women and children are still believed to be trapped inside the old city, cut off from basic services including food, water and urgent medical care. Reports also indicate that some 2,000 people are currently being detained in Derna’s Grenada prison, with local sources stating that the inmates are being deprived of water and food.
Local activists have also accused Haftar’s forces of mutilating the bodies of the DPF dead, citing videos circulated on social media that appear to show militants exhuming several graves of enemy fighters before setting the bodies ablaze.
In a statement yesterday the UN expressed concern at these latest developments, calling on Haftar and the DPF to abide by international law and protect civilians.
“The UN urges all parties to the conflict to respect and adhere to their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, and take all measures to protect civilians and civilian facilities. The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to the affected civilians in the old city,” a statement read.
Haftar’s forces – associated with the eastern-based Interim Government in Benghazi – claimed to have captured Derna last June, after weeks of fighting which killed scores of civilians and displaced thousands. However, skirmishes with the local DPF have continued to take place, which Haftar has attempted to frame as counter terrorism operations.
Since the protests against the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has faced chronic instability and violence.
In 2014 Libya split between rival camps, with Haftar gradually emerging as the dominant figure in the east – aligned with a regional parliament and government – and opposing the internationally-recognised government in the western capital, Tripoli.