Thousands flee Tripoli homes as battle rages on outskirts

A Libyan fighter loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) fires a machine gun during clashes with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar south of the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2019

Thousands flee Tripoli homes as battle rages on outskirts

  • The UN said at least 4,500 Tripoli residents had been displaced

TRIPOLI: Eastern forces and troops loyal to the Tripoli government fought on the outskirts of Libya’s capital on Wednesday as thousands of residents fled from the battle.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar held positions in the suburbs about 11 km south of the center, with steel containers and pickups with mounted machine-guns blocking their way into the city.

Residents reported LNA planes buzzing Tripoli and the sound of clashes in outskirts. Haftar’s forces were engaging Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj’s fighters at the former international airport, one soldier told Reuters.

The UN said at least 4,500 Tripoli residents had been displaced, most moving away from their homes in conflict areas to safer districts of the city. Many more were trapped, it said.

The LNA forces moved out of their stronghold in east Libya to take the sparsely populated but oil-rich south earlier this year, before heading a week ago toward Tripoli, where the internationally recognized government of sits.

Libya has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since the 2011 topping of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi. He ruled for more than four decades before falling in a Western-backed revolt.

Since then, political and armed factions have vied for power and control of Libya’s oil wealth, and the country split into rival eastern and western administrations linked to shifting military alliances after a battle for Tripoli in 2014.

The UN wants to bring both sides together to plan an election and way out of the chaos.

Its humanitarian agency the OCHA said it was extremely concerned about the “disproportionate and indiscriminate use” of explosive weapons in densely populated areas.

Half-a-million children were at risk, it added.

As well as the humanitarian consequences, renewed conflict in Libya threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper the UN peace plan, and encourage militants to exploit the chaos.

Daesh killed three people in a remote desert town under LNA control two days ago.

In Tripoli, nearly 50 people have died, mainly fighters but also some civilians including two doctors, according to latest UN casualty estimates. The toll is expected to rise.

Several thousand migrants, detained after trying to use Libya as a staging-point for crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, have also been caught up in the crisis.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday it had relocated more than 150 of them — among several thousand in total — from one detention center in south Tripoli to a facility of its own in a safe zone.

One official at that detention center said he flung open the doors on Wednesday and released another 150 migrants for their own safety due to the proximity of clashes.

The UN, US, EU and G7 bloc have appealed for a cease-fire, a return to the UN peace plan, and a halt to Haftar’s push.

Opponents cast him as a would-be dictator in the mold of Qaddafi, though Haftar projects himself as a champion against extremism pushing to restore order to Libya.

Haftar was among officers who helped Qaddafi rise to power in 1969 but fell out with him during a war with Chad in the 1980s. He was taken prisoner by the Chadians, rescued by the CIA, and lived for about 20 years in Virginia before returning in 2011 to join other rebels in the uprising against Qaddafi

Despite the flare-up in conflict, normal life was just about continuing in Tripoli, a city of roughly 1.2 million people, though prices were rising and businesses are closing earlier than usual, residents said.

“I don’t care who wins or loses, I just want to survive with my family,” said a teacher in Tripoli, who hoped to get out.

Dead body business attracts medics, drug dealers in Egypt

Egyptian Christians stand outside St. Markos Church in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt, in this Jan. 6, 2015 file photo. (AP)
Updated 35 min 53 sec ago

Dead body business attracts medics, drug dealers in Egypt

  • Some of the gravediggers remove tissues and grease from the bones by boiling them to remove their odor before selling them to students

CAIRO: The Egyptian Orthodox Church has issued a statement condemning the theft of the body of the Patriarch Gerges, son of priest Ibrahim Al-Basit, from his family’s burial place in the Minya governorate.
Last Saturday, the cemetery was opened and Al-Basit’s body was stolen. The crime of stealing the bodies of the dead has recently spread across Egypt, especially while the sanctity of the body remains preserved. It is also common for the remains to be collected two years after the burial.
Last October, a gang was arrested after stealing bodies from their graves. An investigation has revealed that the main defendant sold the bodies to medical students for practical learning.
Some of the gravediggers remove tissues and grease from the bones by boiling them to remove their odor before selling them to students.
The investigation found that the defendant had put a price on various limbs. The leg and the arm were priced at 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($180), the skull cost 5,000 pounds and the whole body was worth 20,000 pounds.
Ashraf Farahat, a legal expert and lawyer, said that Egyptian law demands up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 100-500 pounds for criminals who violate the sanctity of graves.
Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a legal expert and lawyer, said he knew of many cases where cemetery guards and assistants help people access graves for superstitious reasons in exchange for large sums of money.
The majority of these cases are happening with the help of the guards of the tombs. They exhume graves at night to extract the bodies and separate the organs to sell bones and skulls. They often sell them to drug dealers by grinding and mixing some materials for sale at high prices.