More fatalities as battle rages on in Libya

Military vehicles of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, are seen near a military camp in Tripoli, Libya April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara - RC1D4F2640F0
Photo credit: Reuters

Casualties from the battle for Libya's capital mounted while Islamic State killed three people in a desert town, illustrating how jihadists may exploit renewed chaos.

Medical facilities reported 47 people killed and 181 wounded in recent days as eastern forces seek to take Tripoli from an internationally-recognised government, the World Health Organisation said.

That was a higher figure than numbers given by either side and appeared to be made up mainly of fighters, although it also comprised nine civilians including two doctors, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva.

The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of former Gaddafi general Khalifa Haftar seized the sparsely populated but oil-rich south earlier this year before heading toward Tripoli this month.

They are fighting on the southern side of the city, where witnesses said on Monday afternoon the LNA had lost control of a former airport and withdrawn down the road.

The government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a UN-brokered deal that Haftar boycotted, is seeking to repel the LNA with the help of armed groups who have rushed from port town Misrata in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.

Serraj's forces carried out an air strike on an LNA position in the suburb of Suq al-Khamis on Tuesday, a resident and an eastern military source said, without giving more details.

The United Nations, United States, European Union and G7 bloc have appealed for a ceasefire, a return to a UN peace plan and a halt to Haftar's push.

Far south of Tripoli, Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for attacking the town of Fuqaha, where residents said three people were killed and another kidnapped.

Fuqaha is controlled by fighters loyal to Haftar, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism though he is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi.

IS has been active in Libya in the turmoil since the Western-backed overthrow of Gaddafi eight years ago.

It took control of the coastal city of Sirte in 2015 but lost it the following year to local forces backed by US air strikes, and now operates in the shadows. The attack on Fuqaha indicated IS may be looking to exploit gaps left by movements of Haftar's troops.

Libya's potential slide into civil war threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe and scupper UN plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west.

"There are fears that the civilian death toll will rise rapidly as the fighting intensifies and spreads into more densely populated parts of the city," said Amnesty International's regional deputy, Magdalena Mughrabi.

Libya has become the main conduit for African migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe, many of whom suffer torture, rape and extortion on their journeys.

On Monday, a warplane took out Tripoli's only functioning airport, and the number of displaced people - 3400 at the last UN count - is mounting alongside the casualties.

Reuters