Tunis: Battles erupted around Tripoli on Wednesday following intensified bombardment of the Libyan capital, defying international pleas for a truce to tackle the coronavirus after the first case was confirmed in the country.
The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) launched an assault on several fronts early in the day, including an attack on an airbase west of Tripoli, according to both sides.
However, later on Wednesday the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said its forces moved from repelling the attack to capturing territory near Zuwara, 30 miles (45km) north.
“Attacks and counterattacks in Libya continue to inflict further suffering and civilian casualties,” the U.N. mission said in a tweet, calling for an immediate halt to the violence.
Residents of Tripoli, seat of the GNA, said the shelling was the worst in weeks, shaking windows in the city centre miles from the front line in the southern suburbs.
“We are done in this country. There is a war and we hear clashes all day, fearing a missile will fall near us. Now there is coronavirus. If it spreads in Libya, I think we can only pray,” said Issa, 30, a shop owner in Tripoli.
Pro-GNA forces attacked al-Watiya airbase, 125 km (80 miles) west of Tripoli and the closest such facility to the capital in LNA hands, early on Wednesday, leading to intense clashes.
“In response to the heaviest bombardments Tripoli has seen, we launched a series of counter attacks against Haftar,” Mohamed Geblawi, spokesman for the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.
Geblawi cited what he called “indiscriminate shelling” by the LNA after both sides had agreed to a ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus.
The escalation in the fighting could spell disaster for Libya’s already fragmented and badly stretched health system in handling the coronavirus, after authorities confirmed the first case of the disease late on Tuesday....