Rebels pound port in Libyan capital with rocket fire

Updated February 19, 2020


TRIPOLI: Smoke rises from the port after it was attacked on Tuesday.—Reuters
TRIPOLI: Smoke rises from the port after it was attacked on Tuesday.—Reuters

TRIPOLI: A port in the capital of war-torn Libya was hit by a barrage of rocket fire on Tuesday, witnesses said.

The Tripoli port, used by merchant shipping and the navy, was cordoned off by security forces and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

“The rockets flew over our heads and hit one of the quays at the Al-Shaab port,” a resident of the central district of Dahra said.

“So far there have been more than 15 rockets and the bombardment is ongoing.”

A column of smoke rising from the port area was visible from across Tripoli, the target of a months-long operation by eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar to oust the UN-recognised unity government. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strikes.

Other witnesses said port workers had quickly left the area.

Video shared on social media appeared to show aircraft preparing to land at the city’s sole functioning airport before changing direction.

The rocket fire was the latest violation of a tenuous ceasefire that came into effect in January.

Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli last April, but after rapid advances his forces stalled on the edges of the capital.

The fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced some 140,000 according to the United Nations.

The ceasefire brokered by Haftar backer Russia and Turkey, which supports the unity government, took effect on January 12. Each side accuses the other of breaking it.

The UN on Tuesday welcomed a new European Union naval operation to enforce a much-violated arms embargo on Libya as the warring sides met for military talks in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the warring sides resumed on Tuesday UN-brokered talks in Geneva aimed at salvaging a fragile ceasefire in the North African country, the UN said, even as eastern Libyan forces stepped up their attacks on the Libyan capital, hitting its port.

The UN envoy called the port attack a “big breach of the ceasefire.

The current ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Turkey on Jan 12. But both sides have repeatedly violated the truce, which was supposed to deescalate the fight for control of the Libyan capital.

“We hope to be able in this second round to come to some kind of consensus about what a lasting cease-fire could look like in Libya,” Ghassan Salame, head of the UN Libya mission, told reporters in Geneva.

Oil-rich Libya is split between rival governments based in its east and west, each backed by an array of foreign countries apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya’s resources.

A UN-supported but weak administration, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, holds only a shrinking area of western Libya, including the capital. Its been fending off an offensive since last April by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The military commander is allied with a rival government that controls much of Libya’s east and south, including key oil fields and export terminals.

Militias allied with the Tripoli government said that Hifter’s forces had shelled the port. The media office for Hifter forces said a vessel carrying Turkish-made weapons, which had docked there, was targeted. It did not elaborate.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020