UN chief urges ceasefire to avert ‘bloody battle’ for Tripoli

Libyan fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord run during clashes with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar south of the capital Tripoli’s suburb of Ain Zara, on April 10, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019
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UN chief urges ceasefire to avert ‘bloody battle’ for Tripoli

TRIPOLI: The UN chief warned Libya is on the brink of “a very dangerous situation” as forces loyal to the internationally recognized government and a rival strongman battle for control of the capital.
Thousands of people have fled heavy fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli that has left dozens dead and prompted mounting global alarm.
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appealed for a halt to hostilities to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.
“It’s still time to stop,” he told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council in a closed session in New York.
“It’s still time for a cease-fire to take place, for a cessation of hostilities to take place, and to avoid the worst, which would be a dramatic, bloody battle for Tripoli.”
Nearly a week of fighting on the city’s doorstep has already killed 56 people and wounded 266, the World Health Organization said.
“Thousands of people have fled their homes, while others are trapped in conflict areas. Hospitals inside and outside (Tripoli) are receiving daily casualties,” it said.
The UN chief was in Libya when forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Hafta last week launched an offensive to capture the capital, which is controlled by a UN-backed government and an array of militias.
Haftar backs a rival administration based in eastern Libya that refuses to recognize the authority of the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Guterres said Libya was facing a “very dangerous situation” and urged a halt to the fighting to allow political negotiations to start anew.
“It is very clear for me that we need to restart a serious political dialogue and a serious political negotiation but it is obvious that cannot take place without a full stop to the hostilities,” he said.
The council met for more than two hours behind closed doors to consider how to address the fresh fighting that has derailed efforts to end instability that has been exploited by jihadists and people-smugglers.
The United Nations postponed a national conference that was to open on Sunday to draw up a roadmap to elections, meant to turn the page on years of turmoil since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Heavy clashes shook Ain Zara, a town dotted with farms on the southeastern outskirts of Tripoli where pro-GNA fighters managed to reverse an advance by Haftar’s forces.
On the town’s main street, lined with shops and houses, a sand barrier erected by pro-GNA forces separated the two camps.
“Today, the criminals of Haftar’s group have advanced, but we destroyed a tank and two armored vehicles,” said a pro-GNA fighter who gave his name as Youssef.
“The situation is good now,” he said.
Behind him, artillery fire stirred up a cloud of sand as the sound of machine guns and anti-aircraft guns rang out.
Suddenly a shell sliced through the air and hit a nearby house.
“You see, he (Haftar) wants to destroy our houses and all of Tripoli,” one of the fighters shouted.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which controls swathes of the country’s east, said on Wednesday it had seized a barracks in the Aziziya area around 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Tripoli after “ferocious clashes.”
It said several fighters loyal to the UN-backed government had been detained and their weapons seized.
“For the moment, it’s still a game of cat and mouse,” said a commander from a pro-GNA group.
“We’re still organizing ourselves. The war hasn’t truly started,” he told AFP in Ain Zara.
Heavy arms fire was heard from the front line about 10 kilometers (six miles) away where the city’s disused international airport has changed hands several times over the past week.
Haftar’s forces appear to be advancing on two fronts, from the south and southeast of Tripoli, while coast roads to the east and west of the city are defended by fighters loyal to the GNA.
The strongman, whose key allies are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, is a former Qaddafi military chief who has emerged as a major player in Libya’s political struggle.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “deeply concerned by the situation in Libya.”
“The current military operation and advance on Tripoli are increasing the suffering of the Libyan people and putting civilian lives at risk,” he said.
The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) said “nearly half a million children in Tripoli and tens of thousands more in the western areas are at a direct risk due to the intensification of fighting.”
Although casualties remain limited so far, the International Crisis Group warned further escalation “could precipitate a humanitarian disaster.”
“If unleashed, a full-fledged offensive could become a proxy war between regional powers and cause innumerable casualties as well as immense devastation,” it said.


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 34 min 48 sec ago
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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.