A hospital in Tripoli, Libya, treating coronavirus patients was bombed on Monday, injuring at least six health workers. Libya’s capital has battled for months with an extended assault by renegade General Khalifa Haftar, struggling to wrestle power away from the U.N.-recognized government.
Libya’s lack of a stable government following the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi has allowed it to become a breeding ground of criminal activity and terrorism. It has also left the country with a barely functioning healthcare system, making it particularly vulnerable to the Chinese pandemic.
Projectiles struck the grounds of Al Khadra General Hospital, located near a frontline in an area held by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), according to Reuters. Local residents said that they heard loud blasts and then saw black smoke rising from the area surrounding the hospital.
“The hospital sustained substantial damage in the attack. Not only is it one of the largest hospitals in Tripoli, it is the only one dedicated to COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] patients, who were recently transferred here,” a local reporter said.
The United Nations condemned the attack as a “clear violation of international humanitarian law … unacceptable at a time when healthcare and health workers are vital in our fight against a global pandemic,” in a statement on Tuesday.
The shelling occurred on a day of mutual bombardment from both of Libya’s warring sides.
The local council of Abu Salim district said the hospital was targeted by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA). Led by military commander Khalifa Haftar, the LNA has been trying to capture the capital since last April.
GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has previously slammed Haftar as a “war criminal,” and demanded he withdraw his forces from Tripoli.
Abu Salim council posted photographs to social media showing damaged cars on the hospital grounds. According to a local aid group, six of the hospital’s patients had to be evacuated due to the bombing.
Libya’s health infrastructure has been badly reduced by years of chaos and conflict. In 2011, an uprising against strongman Muammar Gaddafi sparked turmoil continuing to this day, in which rival armed factions vie for power.
Conflict in Libya has escalated sharply over the past two weeks, despite pleas from the UN for a ceasefire so that the country may prepare for the coronavirus threat. Aid agencies have warned the country is poorly prepared to withstand a major coronavirus outbreak.
At press time on Tuesday, Libya had reported 20 infections and 1 death from the Chinese coronavirus.