CAIRO (AP) — More than 100 civilians including women and children were killed by ground fighting, explosive remnants and airstrikes in Libya between April and June, an increase of 65% from the first three months of the year, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The U.N. Support Mission in Libya said in a report that more than 250 civilians were wounded during the period. That was an increase of 276% from the first quarter.
Most of the casualties were in Libya’s western region, which has been the scene of fighting between the east-based forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter and an array of militias loosely allied with the weak U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, the report said.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The county has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Hifter’s self-styled army launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture Tripoli. But his campaign collapsed last month when the Tripoli-allied militias, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western towns.
Hifter is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival of Egypt and the U.A.E. in a broader regional struggle over political Islam, is the main patron of the Tripoli forces, which are also backed by the wealthy Gulf state Qatar.
The U.N. mission said it documented 85 non-combatant dead and over 230 wounded in western Libya, or 89% of the total civilian causalities. At least 22 were killed and a dozen wounded in central Libya, while only two were wounded in the eastern side of the oil-rich county, it said.
Hifter’s forces were responsible for 80% of the causalities, or 75 dead and 212 wounded, the report said. Tripoli-allied forces killed around three dozen civilians and wounded around 50 others, it said. The remaining civilian casualties could not be attributed to a specific party to the conflict.
Ground fighting killed 69 civilians and wounded 195, while more than two dozen people were killed and at least 14 wounded by airstrikes, the report said.
The U.N. mission said 17 of the slain civilians, including four women and four children, were hit by a Turkish drone strike June 3 during an attack by Tripoli-allied forces on the western town of Qasr Bin Ghashir, south of Tripoli. The strike also wounded 14 civilians.
As Hifter’s forces withdrew from Tripoli’s southern suburbs last month, they left behind mines and improvised explosive devices and booby traps that killed two civilians and wounded 41, the report said.
The report also documented nine attacks on schools, nine assaults on health care facilities and one attack on an ambulance during the second quarterr. The mission blamed Hifter’s forces for seven of those attacks.
Tripoli’s Khadra hospital, which was designated to receive COVID-19 patients, was hit on four different occasions by rockets, the report said.
Two days after talking with western Libya officials, U.S. charge d’affaires in Libya Joshua Harris met Wednesday with eastern Libyan lawmakers and military officials in Benghazi as he seeks to avert a battle over the strategic coastal city of Sirte, which sits near the country’s main oil-export terminals and fields, and to enable Libya’s national oil company to resume oil production from facilities closed by Hitter’s forces.
Turkish-backed forces allied with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli are mobilizing on the edges of Sirte and have vowed to retake the Mediterranean city along with the inland Jufra airbase from Hifter. Egypt, a Hifter allay, has threatened to sent troops into Libya if Sirte is attacked.