Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rockets rain down on Tripoli suburbs killing seven civilians in their homes

Terror as airstrikes rain on Tripoli's densely populated suburbs

Victims: People carry coffins of those who were killed in overnight shelling, at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, Libya. Photo: Reuters
Victims: People carry coffins of those who were killed in overnight shelling, at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, Libya. Photo: Reuters

Ulf Laessing and  Ahmed Elumami

Shells slammed into a densely populated district of Tripoli on Tuesday night, piling misery on civilians from a two-week assault by commander Khalifa Haftar's forces to take Libya's capital from an internationally backed government.

About 10 Grad rockets hit the southern residential area of Abu Salim just before midnight, witnesses and authorities said, killing at least seven people, mainly women, and wounding 17. Some lost limbs.

Both sides blamed each other for the attack, the most intense yet on a residential area. Abu Salim is near a main point of entry into the city of about 2.5 million people.

Retired public servant Hadia al-Hariri was sleeping next to his wife when a shell hit the dining room of their two-storey house in Abu Salim, wounding her and their three-year-old son in the head. He rushed his other five children to a relative.

"We've heard gunfire every night, but now I'm really afraid," Mr Hariri said as neighbours consoled him in a street where remains of a Grad could be seen by his door.

"This war can go on for months...I don't know what to do next," he said, clearing debris from burned shelves and shattered window glasses in the dining room with a gaping hole in the front wall.

Mr Haftar and his eastern Libyan forces have cast their advance as part of a campaign to restore order and defeat jihadists in a nation gripped by anarchy since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

But the internationally recognised Tripoli government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj views the 75-year-old general as a dangerous would-be dictator in the Gaddafi mould.

The UN says thousands of civilians are trapped in southern districts due to the fighting. Rescuers and aid workers are struggling to reach them and electricity, water supplies and telecommunications have been badly disrupted.

Nearly 20,000 people have fled homes, some seeking shelter elsewhere in Tripoli but most heading out. At least 14 civilians have been killed - along with scores of fighters - and about 36 wounded during the offensive, according to UN tallies issued prior to Tuesday.

UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame, who lives in Tripoli and has been pushing a peace plan, condemned the shelling. "Killing innocent people is a blatant violation of international laws," he Mr Salame.

Abu Salim lies about 8km from the city centre, behind the front line of pro-Serraj forces blocking Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) fighters to their south. It is home to more than 100,000.

The area was a battleground during the rebellion against Gaddafi in 2011 and again during battles for Tripoli in 2014 and 2017, given its strategic location next to a highway leading to an old airport that is the gateway to Tripoli from the south.

Younes Blis lives in an apartment building on the airport road, where a Grad landed nearby, destroying several cars. He fears further destruction given Mr Haftar has amassed thousands of troops in the biggest mobilisation since 2011. "I lost track of why we are fighting," Mr Blis said.

On the other side of the road, four women died when three rockets hit buildings sandwiched between narrow streets.

"They didn't stand a chance," said Essam Taha, a neighbour.

Irish Independent

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