image Photo: Reuters

UN condemns attacks in Libya and renews call for GNA-LNA truce

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has “strongly” condemned recent attacks on civilian populated areas in Libya, including an attack last Thursday in which two civilians were reportedly killed and three injured in the shelling of a residential neighborhood in Tripoli, as well as missile strikes against the Mitiga International Airport on 9 May.

In a statement read on the world body’s Unifeed video stream read by Guterres’ Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric added that “the UN mission has renewed its call for a truce during the holy month of Ramadan to allow for an effective and coordinated response to the pandemic threat facing all Libyans.”

“The Secretary-General urges the immediate halt of all military operations in order to deescalate the situation and prevent an all-out conflict. He emphasizes that there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict and calls on all parties to engage in immediate dialogue to reach a political solution. The Secretary General’s Special Representative in Libya stands ready to facilitate that dialogue. The UN Mission will continue to document violations to be shared where relevant with a panel of experts and the International Criminal Court,” said Spokesperson Dujarric.

Tripoli’s Mitiga airport sustained heavy damage in the shelling early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital in recent days. According to the Head of the Tripoli Airport Authority, Mahdy al-Hudairi, “close to 80 missiles” inflicted  “huge financial losses,” that included the destruction of fuel storage facilities, passenger planes, firefighting trucks, the departure halls and a passenger lounge.

Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, part of the National Oil Corporation, confirmed that one of its jet fuel tanks caught fire after coming under attack.

Mitiga is the last functioning airport in the Libyan capital, though civilian flights stopped in March because of repeated shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over COVID-19. The Transportation Ministry said one of the damaged planes was preparing to fly to Spain to retrieve Libyans stranded in Europe by the coronavirus lockdown.

Libya has had no stable central authority since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO-backed rebels in 2011. Two rival governments in the east and the west have competed for power for more than five years, with streets controlled by armed groups.

The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar is being blamed for the strikes. The LNA has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), with frequent shelling of the capital. LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari has not officially responded to the airport attack.

Just days earlier on 1 May, Haftar’s forces released the video from closed-circuit street cameras showing their rocket attack on a civilian area in the Zentan region, south of Tripoli. Three people including two women were seen walking along a road before being thrown to the ground by the blast.

The GNA has been recognized by the United Nations, and is supported financially and militarily by Turkey.

The LNA is backed by Egypt, Russian mercenaries and African troops. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also supports the LNA and are increasingly concerned over Turkey’s deepening involvement in Libya.

The Libya Observer, a pro-GNA publication, reported that the Tripoli-based House of Representatives (HoR) stated in an address to UN  Secretary General Guterres “that any call for dialogue, prior to the end of military operations would not be forthcoming;” nor would it “accept any dialogue in which Haftar is a participant in the next stage, or the political future in general.”

Moreover, the HoR statement reportedly called on the Secretary General “to implement his authority and perform his duty as dictated by law,” and “seek justice by issuing a firm decision against the perpetrators of the obvious war crimes committed against innocent civilians and punish them accordingly; also to exclude the aggressors from any decision which affects the fate and future of Libya.”

The statement went on to call for Haftar’s supporters to “be held accountable and punished, excluding them from any possibility of taking part in dialogue at any stage in the future,” and that those responsible for “egregious attacks on innocent civilians” as “recognized by UN reports” be held “accountable for these terrible acts.”

A pro-government media outlet in Turkey is reporting that “prospects for normalization appear grim in Libya.” According to the Daily Sabah, “forces loyal to the GNA made remarkable military progress in their offensive in the western part of the nation’s capital, Tripoli” in what was described “significant developments” in “the Libyan civil war” in recent weeks. “Armed drones provided by Turkey conducted effective attacks against Haftar forces,” reported the paper, asserting that, “Those drone attacks played critical roles in the GNA’s military advances in those areas of the country. The GNA also increased its attacks to take back the Watiya Air Base from Haftar’s militia.”

Meanwhile, the Washington-based, Arab American operated Al-Monitor news agency is reporting that child soldiers are being deployed to Libya by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army. An 8 May article cited a 40-page report by the Syrians for Truth and Justice human rights NGO claiming documentation by sources in both Syria and Libya of the presence of teenagers among the more than 2,000 Syrian opposition forces estimated to have been sent by Ankara to support the GNA over the past year.

Turkey has also long backed rebel militias attempting to oust the Iran-allied Syrian President Bashar al Assad during the civil war raging in the Arab Republic since 2011.

The Executive Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, Seth J. Frantzman, told the Saudi-based Arab News that, “Ankara’s goal is to use Libya to acquire rights to gas off the coast and also to send Syrian rebels to Libya in order to remove them from Turkey and Idlib, giving them a distraction by sending them to fight in a foreign war;” in hope that “a war of words with the LNA will result in European support for Turkey or concessions by Russia in Idlib. Turkey has used these threats in the past to wring concessions from the EU and US.”

Arab News also cited a January claim and video posted on YouTube by the Syrian Jesr Press news agency that a 17-year-old Syrian boy was killed while fighting in Libya as part of the Sultan Murad faction. Even though his body was reportedly returned to his family via Turkey, Ankara has yet to comment on the allegations.