TUNIS (Reuters) – Shells landed near the Turkish and Italian embassies in central Tripoli late on Thursday, they said, in an apparent expansion of bombardment by eastern-based forces to a central district of the Libyan capital.
The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar has been bombarding Tripoli for months as part of a year-long war to capture the city, causing four fifths of civilian deaths in the conflict this year, according to the United Nations.
At least 131 civilians were killed or injured in the fighting in the first quarter of 2020, the U.N. has said.
However, Turkish military support for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has helped its forces push the LNA back from several areas in recent weeks, threatening to end Haftar’s campaign in western Libya.
The Turkish ambassador told Reuters in a message that a Grad missile had struck the High Court building next to the embassy and another landed by the Foreign Ministry.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter the area near around the Italian ambassador’s residence was hit, causing at least two deaths. “Italy strongly condemns yet another attack by Haftar forces,” it said.
Shells also landed around the city’s port, where the United Nations migration agency had to abort an operation to disembark migrants who had been rescued at sea.
The LNA’s military spokesman had this week announced the start of a new air campaign, and said strikes had targeted an airbase at Misrata.
Local authorities there said the loud blasts that occurred late on Wednesday were caused by a storage problem with old munitions.
Pro-GNA forces have been able to reverse some of the losses they suffered last year with the help of Turkish drones and air defence systems, which stopped most air strikes by the LNA and its allies. The LNA is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
Wednesday’s Misrata blasts came after an attack by the pro-GNA forces on al-Watiya airbase west of the capital, one of the LNA’s most important strongholds in western Libya. The pro-GNA forces have also moved towards Tarhouna, another key LNA bastion.
The U.N. Libya mission said last month that during the first quarter of 2020, at least 131 civilians were killed or injured, a rise of 45% over the last quarter of 2019 as the fighting escalated.
It said ground fighting was the main cause of the deaths and that four fifths of them were caused by forces affiliated to the LNA.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall, Aidan Lewis and Hani Amara; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)