An air strike hit a detention center for mainly African migrants in a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli late on Tuesday, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 130, the United Nations said.
Khaled Al-Meshri, President of the High Council of State of Libya, says the country that heads the African Union today is the one that bombed African migrants in Tajoura, Tripoli, killing dozens of them.
Khaled Al-Meshri held Egypt – without mentioning its name – responsible for the deadly attack on the detention center of Tajoura. Al-Meshri tweeted to accuse Egypt of the attack, saying, “The country that heads the African Union today is the one that bombed African migrants in Tajoura”.
However, the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), blamed in a statement, the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar” for the incident, the self-styled LNA denied it had hit the detention center. It is known that the LNA has been supported for years by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, including provision of armament, training, and execution of air strikes.
The self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has been fighting to seize Tripoli for the past three months.
“This crime came after the statements of the air force commander of Haftar’s Libyan National Army, Muhammad al-Manfour, and therefore it is he who bears its legal and moral responsibility,” Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told al-Wasat state radio.
On Monday, Manfour said aerial bombardment will be stepped up because “traditional means” to “liberate Tripoli” had been exhausted, and urged residents to stay away from what he called “confrontation areas”.
This is not the first time that forces affiliated to Haftar have targeted the center. It came under attack in April when Haftar’s forces began their campaign to capture Tripoli. “Military sources in the government say Haftar’s forces are committing war crimes by targeting civilians and residential areas.”
According to the UN Support Mission in Libya, the air raid killed at least 44 people and wounded more than 130.
The center, which is located next to a military camp in the eastern suburb of Tajoura, houses more than 600 people, but the part that was hit held some 150 male refugees and migrants from African countries such as Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.
Pictures published by Libyan officials showed African migrants undergoing surgery in a hospital after the attack.
Libya is a key departure point for migrants and refugees from Africa and Arab countries trying to reach Italy by boat, but many get picked up by the Libyan coastguard, which is supported by the European Union.
Thousands are being held in government-run detention centers in what human rights groups say are often inhuman conditions.
Tajoura, east of Tripoli’s center, is home to several military camps of forces allied to Tripoli-based GNA.
The LNA, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya, has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting and last week lost its main forward base in Garyan, which was taken back by Tripoli forces. Haftar forces have intensified air strikes after they lost strategic city of Garyan last week.
The African Union (AU) condemned the air raid and demanded those responsible be held accountable.
In a statement on Wednesday, AU Commision Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for an “independent investigation to be conducted to ensure that those responsible for this horrific crime of innocent civilians, be brought to account”.
Mahamat urged the international community to “redouble efforts” to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said at least 30 people died and dozens were wounded, adding that the death toll could rise.
“UNHCR is extremely concerned about news of air strikes targeting Tajoura detention center east of Tripoli, and accounts of refugees and migrants deceased,” it said in a tweet. “Civilians should never be a target.”
The UN’s mission in Libya has said around 3,500 migrants and refugees held in detention centers near the combat zone are at risk.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since 2011, when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed during the Arab Spring uprising.