CAIRO — At least five civilians were killed, including two members of the same family, by heavy shelling in Libya's capital of Tripoli on Monday, officials in the U.N.-backed government said, despite increased international pressure to halt fighting over coronavirus concerns.
Mortar shells launched by Libya's eastern-based forces struck houses in Tripoli's southern suburbs, killing a 42-year-old woman and her nephew, said Amin al-Hashemi, a health ministry spokesman.
In another mortar barrage near the Mitiga airport in Tripoli, two migrant workers were killed and one Libyan civilian was wounded, the health ministry added. A 20-year-old woman was also killed when errant shells crashed into her house in Tripoli's Tajoura neighborhood.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Khalifa Hifter, a military commander whose forces control much of the country and have been laying siege to the capital for almost a year, accused the Tripoli-based adversaries of firing Grad rockets Monday on the town of Tarhuna.
The attacks came just days after the warring parties expressed commitment to a humanitarian pause in fighting so authorities could focus on preventing the spread of the new coronavirus. Libya has not confirmed any cases of the virus, but public health officials fear the global pandemic could devastate the war-torn country. The conflict has ravaged key infrastructure and created dire shortages of medical supplies.
Yacoub El Hillo, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said Sunday that the "timing could not be worse" for the coronavirus to loom over Libya. Echoing calls by the U.S. and other world powers, he urged a "complete cessation of hostilities" so health authorities could ensure unhindered access to aid and boost protective measures.
Libya has been embroiled in civil war for nine years. The North African country ranks 168th of 195 nations worldwide in preparedness for a health crisis, according to the Global Health Security Index, a project of the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.