More than 37 attacks have been reported against health workers, health facilities and ambulances in Libya since the self-styled Libyan National Army led by rogue General Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in early April to capture the capital of Tripoli, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The UN political mission in Libya said in a statement that the “deplorable attacks” impacted at least 19 hospitals and 19 civilian and military ambulances, resulting in 11 deaths and more than 33 injuries, though the actual number may be significantly higher.
Ghassan Salame, the UN envoy for Libya, condemned what he called a clear pattern of ruthless attacks.
“Intentionally targeting health workers and health facilities and ambulances is a war crime, and when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian population, may constitute a crime against humanity,” he said in a statement.
“We will not stand idly by and watch doctors and paramedics targeted daily while risking their lives to save others,” Salame added. “We will spare no efforts to ensure that those responsible will face justice.”
An armed uprising in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. In the aftermath of his fall, rival militias competed for power and in 2014, Haftar plunged the country into civil war when he launched ‘Operation Dignity’ Benghazi.
As a result, a weak UN supported administration in Tripoli oversees the country’s west while a rival government controls the east. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups as well as foreign governments.
Haftar launched the surprise military offensive to capture Tripoli on April 4 despite commitments to attend a national conference weeks later aimed at forming a united government and moving toward elections.
The offensive on Tripoli has made little progress amid stiff resistance by militias supporting the UN-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj. The fighting has killed over 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and displaced more than 100,000 civilians.
A two-day ceasefire, proposed by the UN during the recent Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, was the first since Haftar’s offensive began, howeber fighting resumed overnight on Monday.
The UN mission’s statement pointed to two precision airstrikes targeting a field hospital in the Aziziya neighbourhood that reportedly injured at least four medical staff on Wednesday.
It also singled out LNA airstrikes in late July that targeted two field hospitals and two ambulances, killing at least four doctors and one paramedic and injuring at least eight other medical personnel.
“Despite repeated wide-ranging condemnation and with blatant disregard to international humanitarian norms and conventions, these merciless attacks have continued,” the mission said.