The fierce fighting which erupted in Tripoli on Monday took a dangerous turn earlier this morning after two Grad missiles were fired at the Italian Embassy and the prime minister’s office landing on nearby civilian properties.
Initial eyewitness accounts told this website that the first missile missed the embassy "by a few meters" hitting the fourth floor of al-Waddan hotel. Three people were wounded by the attack, according to the interior ministry of Libya’s UN-backed government. No casualties were recorded in the second attack when a missile missed the PM’s office on al-Sikkah Road and landed in a house across the street.
The attacker’s identity remains unknown amid conflicting eyewitness accounts about the missiles’ source. While many blame Tarhouna’s Kani militias (also known as the Seventh Brigade) stationed in Tripoli’s southern district of Qasr bin Ghashir, others have blamed it on militias based in Hamzah barracks which is located in an area in western Tripoli known as ‘the Airport Road’.
Jamal al-Kafali, a journalist working for the Libyan embassy in Tunisia, posted photos of the aftermath on his Facebook page, confirming that the missiles were aimed at the Italian embassy and the PM’s office.
Libya’s capital city has been engulfed in violence since Monday after tribal militias from the neighbouring town of Tarhouna declared war on Tripoli-based militias, accusing them of corruption and of exploiting state institutions.
Thirty-nine civilians were killed by the violence, as of yesterday, and 119 others wounded, according to the health ministry of the Government of National Accord (GNA). On Friday alone, Tripoli’s security directorate counted 16 Grad missiles fired indiscriminately, most of which landed on civilian properties. Residents of areas affected by the violence shared photos on social media showing houses, hospitals and civilian cars destroyed by the shelling.
The violence drew widespread condemnations from the international community, including United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) which warned that indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas might represent war crimes punishable by international law. Other UN agencies including UNECEF and IOM have voiced concerns over safety of children and of illegal migrants held in detention centers located in areas affected by the violence.
It remains unclear whether the week-long ceasefire announced last night by tribal elders would hold after previous attempts were immediately breached by the warring parties. On Thursday, the GNA recalled friendly forces from Misrata and Zintan to enforce a ceasefire in southern Tripoli, but they were waiting for the fighting to stop before deploying peace-keeping forces to the disputed areas.
Flight operations at Mitiga, Tripoli’s only functioning airport, were suspended last night for 48 hours after several rockets landed inside its parameters. All scheduled flights have been diverted to the airport of Misrata (200 km east of Tripoli). Yesterday’s attack on the airport was believed to have been provoked by GNA airstrikes targeting arms depots inside Tarhouna belonging to the Kani militias.
Reason behind violence
The operation launched on Monday by Tarhouna’s tribal militias is designed to expand the tribe’s territory to include Tripoli’s southern districts of Qasr bin Ghashir, Salah-Eddin, Abu Saleem and al-Hadhbah which Tarhouna considers to be an extension of its historic heartland, and whose inhabitants hail mostly from Tarhouna tribe.
By securing a foothold inside Tripoli, the tribe aims to increase its political clout and enable its militias to act as security providers to receive generous payments from the GNA equal to those given to the Tripoli-based militias. Another key objective is controlling access to Tripoli’s International Airport which is currently being rebuilt after it had been destroyed by the civil war of 2014.