Rival forces have clashed in the Libyan capital, Tripoli causing new civilian casualties in the grinding conflict a day after a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution called for a “lasting ceasefire”.
The resolution was the council’s first since eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive last April to seize Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
But its call for the consolidation of a fragile truce observed since January 12 has not taken effect on the ground.
A new round of violence on the southern outskirts of the Libyan capital on Thursday left civilians dead and wounded. GNA spokesman Moustafa al-Mejii confirmed fighting had broken out.
Rockets also struck residential neighbourhoods, killing a woman and wounding four other civilians, said health ministry spokesman Amin al-Hachimi.
Tripoli’s sole functioning airport of Mitiga, frequently shut down by shelling, suspended flights for several hours after it was hit by a rocket attack before resuming operations.
Witnesses heard explosions in the largely agricultural area of Machrou al-Hadhba about 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Tripoli city centre.
Al-Mejii accused pro-Haftar forces of repeatedly violating a ceasefire demanded by outside powers Russia and Turkey.
“Haftar’s militias tried to advance in the region of Machrou al-Hadhba, but our forces repelled the attack,” he said.
Despite the truce, there has since been sporadic fighting almost every day near Tripoli.
Weapons have continued to flow into the country despite world leaders agreeing at a January summit to end all foreign interference in Libya and to uphold a UN arms embargo, imposed since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya has been mired in chaos ever since, with an array of armed groups linked to rival administrations vying for power, while foreign powers continue to intervene on both sides.
Russia has been accused of sending several thousand mercenaries from a private security company to support Haftar, accusations the Kremlin denies.
UN chief Antonio Guterres has slammed continued foreign interference in Libya as a “scandal”.
The UNSC resolution adopted Wednesday affirmed “the need for a lasting ceasefire in Libya at the earliest opportunity, without pre-conditions”.
It also called for continued negotiations by a joint military commission set up in January between the two sides, with the goal of achieving a “permanent ceasefire”.
This would include a monitoring system, a separation of forces and confidence-building measures.
The commission’s Geneva meeting ended Saturday without a resolution, but the UN proposed resuming talks from February 18.
The Security Council resolution, drafted by the United Kingdom, was approved by 14 votes out of 15, with Russia abstaining.
London had chosen to keep mention of the council’s “concern over the growing involvement of mercenaries in Libya”, terminology that had been the subject of weeks of wrangling, reflecting the deep international divisions over Libya.
Russia had pushed to replace the word “mercenaries” with “foreign terrorist fighters”, but was unsuccessful.
Red Cross warning
Diplomatic efforts to contain the violence were under way on Thursday.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio held talks with Haftar in second city Benghazi on Thursday, Haftar’s office said, a day after Di Maio met GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country has sought to mediate in the crisis in recent weeks, also discussed Libya with Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias.
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The UN says more than 1,000 people have died in the clashes between Haftar and the GNA since April, while another 140,000 have been displaced.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused pro-Haftar forces of using cluster munitions in a residential area in Tripoli on December 2.
“Using cluster munitions shows reckless disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Stephen Goose, the group’s arms division director, in a statement.
Red Cross chief Peter Maurer warned Thursday that if the situation deteriorates, Libyans could flee the country.
“If we cannot stabilise the situation by political and humanitarian means … there could be a population flow like we see when people lose hope,” the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP news agency in Tunis.
On top of the deadly violence, Libya’s National Oil Corporation has warned of a new economic crisis, saying the country’s vital oil production and revenues had dropped since the Berlin conference was held on January 19.
Oil production now stood at 191,475 barrels per day (bpd) compared with 1.2 million bpd before world leaders met in Berlin, representing a loss in revenues of $1.4m, a statement said.