Libya: Warlord Haftar’s Forces Accused of Bombing Hospital, Recruiting Children

Fighters loyal to the Libyan internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) step up to the front during clashes against forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, on May 25, 2019, in the Airport Road Area, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read …
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) over the weekend accused forces loyal to rogue Gen. Khalifa Haftar of airstrikes against a field hospital in southern Tripoli on Saturday, killing five doctors and injuring eight other health workers.

In the wake of Saturday’s attack, the Turkish news outlet Yeni Safak also reported on Monday that Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) may be recruiting children to fight against the GNA in Tripoli.

Lamine al-Hashemi, a spokesperson for the GNA’s Health Ministry, claimed that “a Haftar warplane” carried out the attack on the Az Zawiyah Field Hospital in southern Tripoli on Saturday, according to Al Jazeera.

The airstrike reportedly rendered the health facility inoperable, depriving thousands of people of much-needed essential services in and around the besieged city of Tripoli.

So far, the LNA has neither denied nor confirmed the attack on the hospital.

In April, Haftar and his LNA launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the GNA headquartered there. LNA troops are fighting on behalf of a breakaway government based in eastern Libya’s Tobruk region.

Without explicitly blaming the LNA for bombing the Az Zawiyah Field Hospital, the World Health Organization (WHO) denounced the airstrike, noting:

This latest incident is one of dozens of confirmed attacks on health care in Libya in 2019. So far in 2019, WHO’s Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare (SSA) has registered a total of 37 attacks on health facilities, 11 health workers killed, and 33 health workers and patients injured in the country. Although WHO has repeatedly condemned these incidents, they continue unabated.

Al Jazeera noted that Saturday’s assault marks the third attack on a hospital south of Tripoli.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International have accused the LNA of war crimes. Citing a video interview by the Middle East Eye of some of the children allegedly recruited by the LNA, Yeni Safak reported:

[The warlord’s son] Khaled Haftar recruited boys under the age of 18, telling them they would be participating in a military parade. … One youth recounted how he was threatened by the military police if he refused to join Haftar’s forces, while another stated he was duped into attending a so-called military parade. Both youth stated that they weren’t given any arms at the time of their recruitment.

The WHO described Saturday’s attack on the health facility as a “grave violation of international humanitarian law.”

“This deplorable attack is the latest in a series of violations targeting health facilities,” Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Libya declared in a statement. “The armed conflict in Tripoli continues to take a heavy toll on health care workers. The very people who have dedicated their existence to saving the lives of others are being killed themselves.”

The LNA has also targeted detention centers in Libya holding refugees and migrants, killing dozens of them.

With the help of Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and France, Haftar has seized most of Libya. The LNA has struggled to take Tripoli from the GNA, which counts with the support of Turkey and Qatar.

The fighting in Tripoli alone has already killed nearly 1,100 people, including 106 civilians, and wounded at least 5,500 others, according to the United Nations.

On Monday, Ghassan Salame, the head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, proclaimed, “The armed conflict in Libya shows no signs of abating,” adding:

The parties, ignoring calls for de-escalation, have intensified air campaigns, with precision airstrikes by aircraft and armed drones. … There is increased recruitment and use of foreign mercenaries, alongside the use of heavy weapons and ground attacks. Forces on both sides have failed to observe their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Salame called for a truce during the upcoming Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha next month.

Libya has descended into chaos since the U.S.-backed overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Two rival governments and their respective militias are competing for power. Meanwhile, jihadis like the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are entrenching themselves in the oil-rich North African country.

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