Seven United Nations agencies called for a cease-fire in war-torn Libya that would allow local authorities and humanitarian organizations to focus on the coronavirus outbreak.
Libya can’t fight a war on two fronts, a group of United Nations agencies warned Wednesday, calling on the rival factions to agree to a lasting truce amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The international community must not turn a blind eye to the conflict,” they wrote in a joint statement.
The seven UN agencies echoed a call from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in March, urging a global cease-fire so that coronavirus aid could reach vulnerable populations in countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Signatories to Wednesday’s statement include UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley.
Libya has been embroiled in conflict since the ousting of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. For the past year, forces loyal to Libya’s eastern military strongman Khalifa Hifter have been staging an offensive on the capital Tripoli, where the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) is based.
The fighting has escalated in the past month as Hifter, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, lost ground to GNA troops supported by Turkey. The United States, meanwhile, accuses Russia of further inflaming the conflict by sending mercenaries to fight on behalf of the eastern Libyan commander.
“Hostilities continue unabated, hindering access and the delivery of critical humanitarian supplies,” the UN agencies wrote. “Humanitarian workers face significant challenges every day to carry on with their mission.”
They verified 13 cases of “grave violations” during the past year, including the killing of children. At least 15 attacks since the start of this year have damaged health facilities and ambulances.
The attacks on health care are of particular concern as the North African nation grapples with an outbreak of COVID-19. The country has registered 64 cases of the coronavirus and three deaths, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.
“This shows that local/community transmission is taking place,” the agencies wrote. “The risk of further escalation of the outbreak is very high.”
Amid concerns that Libya’s overstretched health system is ill-prepared to handle a spiraling outbreak, the agencies said Wednesday that “funds are urgently required” to continue with humanitarian services.
Libya: Tripoli hospital attacked by ‘Haftar’s missiles’
At least 14 people injured in attacks which the UN-recognised government blamed on rival eastern forces.
At least 14 people have been injured in attacks on a hospital and residential areas in the Libyan capital Tripoli, which the United Nations-recognised government blamed on rival eastern forces led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said the attack targeted the dermatology department at the Tripoli Central Hospital, and that a fire broke out at a citizen’s house in the area caused by missiles launched by Haftar’s forces.
Amin al-Hashemi, a health ministry spokesman, said some parts of the hospital building were damaged and added that children were among the injured.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying to capture Tripoli from the GNA since April 2019, resulting in more than 1,000 people’s death.
The attack on the hospital came hours after seven UN organisations called on rival parties to halt their fighting to enable authorities and aid organisations to focus on stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus.
There were 64 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including three deaths, in different parts of the country, a UN agency said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This shows that local/community transmission is taking place. The risk of further escalation of the outbreak is very high,” it added.
Violence between Haftar’s forces and the GNA has been raging in recent weeks despite repeated international calls for a humanitarian truce in Libya to focus on the fight against the coronavirus.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.
Since 2015, the country has been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups supported by an array of foreign powers.
Haftar’s offensive is supported by France and Russia, as well as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other key Arab countries.
The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey, which deployed troops and fighters to help defend the capital in January, as well as by Italy and Qatar.