Airstrike on Libyan migrant center kills 44 sparking international condemnation

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Military officers of the Libyan Government of National Accord inspect debris at a migrant detention center in Tripoli's Tajoura suburb after an airstrike killed dozens of people. (AFP)
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Wounded migrants lie on hospital beds after an air strike hit a detention center for mainly African migrants in Tajoura. (Reuters)
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Emergency workers arrive to the scene were an airstrike killed nearly 40 at Tajoura Detention Center, east of Tripoli on early July 3, 2019. (AFP)
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Belongings of migrants are seen at a detention center hit by an airstrike in the Tajoura suburb of Tripoli. (Reuters)
Updated 03 July 2019

Airstrike on Libyan migrant center kills 44 sparking international condemnation

  • The airstrike on the detention center in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood also wounded 80 migrants
  • The Arab league, UN and European Union all condemn the attack, which tool place as fighting continues in Libya's capital

TRIPOLI: Outrage and calls for an independent probe mounted Wednesday as 44 migrants were killed in an air strike on a detention center in Libya that the UN said could constitute a war crime.
UN chief Antonio Guterres denounced the “horrendous” attack and demanded an independent investigation as the Security Council said it would hold urgent talks about the situation in the country.
Libya’s internationally-recognized government and rival commander Khalifa Haftar traded blame for the deadly assault, which the European Union called a “horrific” attack.
Bodies were strewn on the floor of a hangar in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura, mixed with the blood-soaked clothes of migrants, an AFP photographer said.
“There were bodies, blood and pieces of flesh everywhere,” a survivor, 26-year-old Al-Mahdi Hafyan from Morocco, told AFP from his hospital bed where he was being treated for a leg wound.
Hafyan said he had been detained in the center for three months, after coming to Libya with a fellow Moroccan hoping to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.
His friend survived the attack unscathed, but his T-shirt was stained with other people’s blood. “We were lucky. We were at the back of the hanger.”
Tuesday night’s strike left a hole around three meters (10 feet) in diameter in the hangar, surrounded by debris ripped from the metal structure by the force of the blast.
At least 44 people were killed and more than 130 severely wounded, the UN said.
The UN shared the coordinates of the Tajoura center east of Tripoli with the warring sides to ensure that civilians sheltering there were safe, Guterres said.
UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said the “attack clearly could constitute a war crime, as it killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter.”
The Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed the need "of sparing civilians from the ongoing military actions around Tripoli, and maintaining the safety of civilians facilities and infrastructure."
Around 600 migrants and refugees were held in the Tajoura center, the compound’s head Noureddine Al-Grifi said, adding that people were wounded in another hangar.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
But the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) denounced the attack as a “heinous crime” and blamed it on the Haftar, who in early April launched an offensive to seize the capital.
Wednesday evening a spokesman for Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said: “The (pro-Haftar) forces deny their responsibility in the attack on the migrant center of Tajoura.”
Ahmad Al-Mesmari blamed the attack on the GNA, accusing it of “plotting” against the LNA.
“We never target civilians. Our armed forces are professional and accurate in their strikes,” Mesmari said, calling for an investigation into the carnage.
The United States condemned an “abhorrent” attack and urged a “de-escalation,” the State Department said.
The European Union — echoing many countries and international organizations — called for an independent probe.
“Those responsible should be held to account,” an EU statement said.
The suburb of Tajoura, which has several military sites belonging to pro-GNA armed groups, is regularly targeted in air raids by Haftar’s forces.
The UN refugee agency deplored the attack.
“Migrants and refugees must NOT be detained; civilians must NOT be a target; Libya is NOT a safe place of return” for migrants and refugees, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi tweeted.
Charlie Yaxley, a spokesperson in Geneva, said the UNHCR had asked that the center be evacuated a few weeks ago after “a near miss from a similar air strike.”
The center was thought to have been used to store weapons, he added.
The UN’s mission in Libya has said around 3,500 migrants and refugees held in detention centers near the combat zone are at risk.
Wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising against dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has become a major conduit for migrants seeking to reach Europe and remains prey to numerous militias vying for control of the country’s oil wealth.
Also on Wednesday, air traffic was halted at the Libyan capital's only functioning airport, Mitiga, after an air strike, according to a post on the airport authorities' Facebook page.
Rights groups say migrants face horrifying abuses in Libya, and their plight has worsened since Haftar launched the offensive against Tripoli.
More than 700 people have been killed and 4,000 wounded since the assault began in early April, while nearly 100,000 have been displaced, according to UN agencies.
The two rival camps accuse each other of using foreign mercenaries and enjoying military support — especially air backing — from foreign powers.
Late Wednesday flights were suspended at Mitiga, Tripoli’s only functioning airport, a statement by airport authorities said, after Haftar’s forces launched an air strike on the facility.
A security source said the raid caused no casualties or damage.
LNA spokesman Mesmari said a “drone command center” at Mitiga was destroyed in the raid.
 


Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

Updated 4 min 52 sec ago

Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prince William and his wife Kate arrived in Pakistan to a red carpet welcome late Monday for their “most complex” tour to date, with Islamabad eager to tout improved security after years of violent militancy.
The couple — the Duchess of Cambridge in a sea-green shalwar kameez, and the Duke in a dark suit — were greeted by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and presented with flowers after they landed in a British government plane at a military base in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital Islamabad, state television images showed.


Details of the five-day visit are being kept under wraps. Security is expected to be tight for the couple’s first official trip to Pakistan, and the first visit by a British royal since William’s father Charles and his wife Camilla came in 2006.
In addition to Islamabad they are set to visit the ancient Mughal capital of Lahore, as well as the mountainous north and the region near the border with Afghanistan in the west.
Kensington Palace has called the trip “the most complex tour undertaken by The Duke and Duchess to date, given the logistical and security considerations.”
The couple are also expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was close friends with William’s mother, the late Princess Diana.
“I’ve always been struck by the warmth in Pakistan toward the Royal Family,” British High Commissioner Thomas Drew said in a video published to Twitter late Sunday.
The couple’s program will pay respect to Britain’s historic relationship with Pakistan, once part of colonial India, he said.
“But it will focus largely on showcasing Pakistan as it is today, a dynamic, aspirational, and forward-looking nation,” Drew continued.
They are expected to see Pakistan’s efforts to combat climate change and learn about the “complex security” of the region, among other issues, a statement from Kensington Palace said earlier this month.
Pakistan has waged a long battle with militancy which has seen tens of thousands of people killed in the past 15 or so years.
Charles’ and Camilla’s 2006 trip was tainted when they were forced to pull out of a visit to Peshawar over safety concerns after the military launched an airstrike on a religious school that killed 80 people.
But security has improved dramatically since the army intensified a crackdown on militant groups in 2015, with several countries changing their travel warnings for Pakistan as a result, and Islamabad eager to promote both tourism and foreign investment.
There are promising signs, such as the British Airways return earlier this year after more than a decade, and the slow but steady revival of international cricket.
Analysts have long warned that Pakistan is not yet getting to the root causes of extremism, however, and militants retain the ability to carry out attacks, including in urban areas.
Moments before the couple’s arrival Monday, Qureshi used televised comments to invoke the memory of Diana, who charmed Pakistanis when she visited in her official capacity in 1991.
She also made several private visits in later years to help Khan — then a cricketer-turned-opposition politician married to her friend Jemima — raise money for a cancer hospital in Lahore.
“She is held in very high esteem in Pakistan... We are happy that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are now coming,” Qureshi said.
The visit showed that Pakistan has come out of “difficult times,” he added.
Pakistan was carved out of colonial India to become independent from Britain in 1947, creating an Islamic Republic for the subcontinent’s Muslims.
Britain is home to more than a million people of Pakistani origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe.