New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce. (AFP / Mahmud Turkia)
Updated 14 August 2019

New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

  • Violence in Libya worsens refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, UN says
  • The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since Khalifa Haftar's offensive on Tripoli in April

CAIRO: Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce.

The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since eastern forces of the Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April to capture the city.

The airstrikes focused on the road linking the city center with a shuttered old airport that Haftar’s forces took back in April, and the neighborhoods of Wadi El-Rabie, Khallat El-Fujan and Suq Al-Jumaa.

The militias allied with the regime in Tripoli also shelled Haftar’s forces in the southern and eastern outskirts of the city.

Both sides had accepted the truce before the Eid Al-Adha holiday, though they each later claimed the other had violated the cease-fire.

Authorities at the Mitiga airport, Tripoli’s only functional airport, suspended flights for several hours on Sunday after reporting that a shell had landed a few meters away from the runway. The Tripoli militias blamed Haftar’s forces for the shelling.

No civilian casualties were reported on Tuesday, but fighting since April has killed more than 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and displaced more than 100,000 civilians from their homes.

Many of the displaced have tried to flee to Europe from the Libyan coast, leading to a renewed refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.

The refugees rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which both Italy and Malta have banned from their ports.

It is unclear where they might find a harbor, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest. About 150 of the refugees have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship Open Arms since they were rescued from the Mediterranean two weeks ago.

“This is a race against time,” said UNHCR special envoy Vincent Cochetel. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.”

Migrant numbers had been falling, but nearly 600 have died or gone missing this year in waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

The UNHCR said many of the refugees were “survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships must be allowed to dock immediately and their passengers given humanitarian aid.

“To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” he said.


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.