Dozens of people were killed and injured in an airstrike on a migrant detention center in the eastern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Several bodies lay on the floor of the hangar in Tajoura where the migrants were being held, while ambulances rushed to the scene, an AFP photographer said.
Emergency services spokesperson Osama Ali told AFP that almost 40 people were killed and more than 70 injured, but warned that it was “a preliminary assessment and the toll could rise.”
He said 120 people were detained in the hangar, which was directly hit by the strike.
Update July 3 The United Nations Support Mission in Libya said on Wednesday at least 44 people had died and more than 130 were severely injured, noting that Tuesday’s strike was the second attack on the facility which holds about 600 people.
Officials at the center, who reported dozens of deaths, blamed the raid on the Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya.
A statement released early on Wednesday by the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord condemned what it claimed was a “deliberate” attack by “the air force of the war criminal, Khalifa Haftar” targeting the “migrant shelter center in Tajoura.” It said “scores” of people were killed and wounded.
The pro-Haftar Libyan Address Journal reported the LNA Air Force had carried out raids on militias allied with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and Tajoura.
GNA-allied forces use a number of military camps in Tajoura, which is just east of Tripoli. The area is regularly targeted in air raids.
Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed long-time leader Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, with a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.
Libya has long been a major transit point to Italy for migrants trying to reach Europe. Many who attempt the sea journey are picked up by the Libyan coast guard in an operation supported by the European Union, and thousands are held in detention centers.
Haftar, a retired general who had taken part in the revolt against Qaddafi, unleashed an offensive in May 2014 to purge Libya of Islamists he branded “terrorists.”
Led by Fayez al-Sarraj and based in Tripoli in the west of the country, the GNA was established in 2015 under a U.N.-led initiative agreed upon by a parallel administration in Tobruk the east, which is supported by Haftar and his LNA.
But the unity government has struggled to assert control and accuses Haftar of wanting to install a military dictatorship, and the two sides in the growing conflict are supported by competing regional powers.
After a rapid advance from the east and south of the country, forces loyal to Haftar captured Gharyan on April 2, and two days later launched an offensive on Tripoli where the internationally recognized Government of National Accord is based.
But Haftar’s forces have been halted on the southern outskirts of the capital by fighters who back the GNA, and on June 27, Mustafa al-Mejii, a spokesperson for forces loyal to the GNA, said Gharyan had been recaptured.
LNA forces have since pledged to intensify air strikes against their GNA rivals.
Fighting since April has killed more than 700 and wounded 4,000, while nearly 100,000 have been displaced, according to U.N. agencies.
With reporting from AFP