Libya: shelling of civilian areas in Tripoli and Benghazi are war crimes

The Faculty of Mechanical Engineering Technology in Benghazi after shelling by an armed group in June © ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images
‘The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians’ - Philip Luther
 
Amnesty International is calling for all sides to immediately stop the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas in Tripoli and Benghazi, where clashes in recent weeks have evolved into two separate armed conflicts.
 
Intense fighting between rival armed groups and militias in both cities has killed 214 people and injured 981, according to the Ministry of Health, as well as causing damage to civilian property. Medical workers have reported that the dead and injured included civilians, in particular women and children.
 
In and around Benghazi, a coalition of Islamist militias and armed groups - including Ansar al-Sharia, recently re-named the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries - has been engaged in a conflict against armed forces allied with retired General Khalifa Haftar since mid-May. In Tripoli, rival militias from Zintan and Misratah and their respective allies have been fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport since 13 July. In both cities the indiscriminate shelling of urban areas using mortars, artillery, GRAD rockets and anti-aircraft weapons has been extensive. Firing such imprecise weapons in urban areas resulting in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime.
 
In one of the most tragic incidents, five members of the same family were killed when a GRAD rocket struck their home in Sawani, on the outskirts of Tripoli on 31 July. Among the dead was Na’ima Bahloul al-Dawa, who was eight months pregnant. A young girl was also killed after sustaining head injuries. Three other members of the same family, including a 14-year-old boy and a woman in her sixties, were injured in the same incident.
 
Shelling in urban areas near Tripoli International Airport has prompted thousands of residents to flee. According to the UN Refugee Agency, some 30,000 people crossed the border into Tunisia over the last week, many of them Egyptian workers. Airports in both Tripoli and Benghazi have been shut due to the spiralling violence. 
 
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:
 
“The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians who have found themselves mercilessly pinned down by indiscriminate shelling with imprecise weapons that should never be used in populated areas.”
 

Damage to homes, hospitals, factories and farms

As well as the rising civilian death toll, persistent shelling has caused significant damage to civilian buildings and infrastructure in Tripoli and Benghazi. 
 
Scores of homes - as well as factories, mosques and shops - have been damaged or destroyed in the residential areas of Qasr Ben Ghashir, Al-Akwakh, Kremiya and along the main airport road in Tripoli. Farms have been shelled and livestock killed in Qasr Ben Ghashir, according to local officials. Meanwhile, dozens of houses in the area have been reportedly looted or vandalised by criminal gangs. 
 
Tripoli International Airport has been attacked repeatedly since 13 July, including with GRAD rockets. While most civilians living in the vicinity of the airport left their homes in the first week of the fighting, others have been unable to leave as a result of shelling or because of a general fuel shortage in the city. Residents in Tripoli report a shortage of food, baby milk and medicine for the treatment of chronic diseases because of the closure of roads in the southern areas of the city.  
 
At least three medial facilities have been damaged in fighting in Tripoli, and two medical warehouses destroyed. A medical clinic and medical warehouse in Benghazi have also been partially destroyed as a result of shelling. Al Afya clinic, the largest private hospital in Tripoli, just two miles away from Tripoli International Airport, was damaged by a GRAD rocket and gunfire after an armed group established a base some 200 metres away from which it was launching attacks on the airport. Staff said that at the time of the shelling there were hundreds of people including medical workers, patients and visitors at the hospital. The clinic remained open for the treatment of wounded fighters and civilians but was forced to shut down completely on 17 July after it was hit by mortar fire. 
 
Damage to a power station in southern Benghazi and major transmission lines in Tripoli caused by shelling has also caused power cuts in both cities.
 

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