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Fighting escalates in Libya despite coronavirus threat

March 27, 2020 at 8:41 pm

Officials carry out disinfection works within coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, Libya on 25 March, 2020 [Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency]

Battles raged on several fronts in Libya on Friday after a night of heavy bombardment in Tripoli, combatants and residents said, despite the threat continued fighting poses to efforts to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

Serious warfare resumed this week after a comparative lull in recent weeks, defying international calls for calm to allow Libya’s fragmented and overstretched health system to prepare for any spread of the coronavirus.

Libya confirmed its first case of the highly infectious respiratory disease on Monday – a Libyan man recently returned from overseas. After years of instability and violence, much of the North African country’s medical infrastructure is in ruins, hospitals and clinics have been targeted, and many doctors and nurses have not been paid since December.

READ: Aid groups warn they are unable to reach people in conflict zones due to coronavirus restrictions

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar has been assaulting Tripoli for nearly a year, hoping to capture the capital in the northwest where the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is based.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia have been supporting the LNA militarily, while Turkey and allied Syrian fighters are backing the GNA.

Diplomacy has foundered, with the latest round of talks in Geneva making no progress towards a political solution last month, and the UN envoy resigning for health reasons.

Before he quit, he warned that the arms embargo on Libya was being routinely violated, with foreign weaponry and fighters arriving in the country to join both sides.

Haftar’s forces kill migrants in Libya - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Haftar’s forces kill migrants in Libya – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

On Thursday, the European Union said it would launch a new naval and air mission to stop further breaches of the embargo.

Huge explosions rattled Tripoli from midnight onwards, with artillery fire echoing around the city on Friday morning, according to residents.

Fierce clashes were reported in the west of Libya, between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, in the capital’s southern suburbs, and in the frontline region between Sirte and Misrata to the east of Tripoli.

READ: Sarraj announces launch of Operation Peace Storm in response to Haftar attacks

An LNA military source said fighting had resumed at dawn on Friday west of Sirte, a port city in central Libya captured by the LNA in January. The media office for pro-GNA forces did not comment.

The United Nations “is alarmed that hostilities have continued in and around Tripoli despite the announced humanitarian pause”, a UN statement said on Friday.