The town of Murzuq in Libya was hit by an air strike on Monday, leaving 42 civilians dead and more than 60 injured, of which 30 are critically injured. The 200 civilians were gathering at a town hall meeting in the Qalaa neighborhood “to settle social differences,” council official Ibrahim Omar told AFP news agency. UN-backed groups in Libya have blamed the deaths on General Haftar’s rebel forces. The group has claimed the attack as being one against the Chadian mercenaries, in reference to the Tebu ethnic group that opposes Haftar. “No armed or wanted people were among them…Haftar bombed unarmed civilians,” Ibrahim Omar commented as he called for humanitarian aid as local hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with the high number of casualties.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) condemned the attack and accused Haftar’s forces of being responsible. The GNA also prompted the UN to “carry out an investigation into the crimes committed by Haftar’s militias in Murzuq”.
The European Union also condemned the strike, saying, “Indiscriminate attacks on densely populated residential areas may amount to war crimes and must cease immediately.”
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) released a statement after the attacks saying it they are “extremely concerned by reports on the continuation of acts of violence in Murzuq, including a number of air strikes.” There was no mention of the LNA.
Libya’s lack of a central, sovereign, and permanent system of governance leaves much peace and security to be desired. Haftar’s continued offensive against UN-backed groups has made it much more difficult to reconcile the main political groups currently in power. These stalemates have resulted in a heightened deployment of air power and thus, further casualties in an effort to gain advantage. With different countries backing different factions (GNA backed by Qatar and Turkey, LNA backed by Egypt), this has become a competition between very powerful groups that hold dire international implications. In reality, I don’t believe there is an immediate solution or set plan that can be carried out in order to resolve the political tug-of-war for Libya since Qaddafi’s overthrow in 2011. The ongoing air war will see no end as long as there is a lack of an international reaction. While international attention is needed, many players are involved and there has not been a clear effort to install a sovereign government. At this point, Libya is split amongst so many different groups that the country itself is up for grabs, which can be devastating in the long-run for civilians. Many lines are being crossed with little regard for international laws, so there needs to be more accountability for these civilian deaths. While Macron and Sisi have tried to play a role in backing the UN’s plan for a ceasefire, they have not focused on punishing groups for continued attacks on civilians.
Haftar’s forces also seized Murzuq at the beginning of the year as an attack on the oil-producing South of Libya. They then moved to the North in an attempt to take the capital of Tripoli. The GNA and Haftar’s forces have been fighting for power since April, which has resulted in the death of 1,000 Libyans, according to the World Health Organization. In a country with various groups fighting for power, Libya’s armed militias hold the power as they back the two centers of power in the East and West. The Tripoli administration is internationally recognized by the GNA under the leadership of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj. While he has tried to gain the alliance of other armed groups, he still holds very little power. The Tobruk administration, which includes the 2014 elected parliament, had backed the UN deal for a unified government in 2015 but has since refused to agree to it. As supporters of Gen. Hafer, they have blocked any chance for new elections in an effort to get Hafer to power. The general leads the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Libya remains in a state of instability and cannot reach a peaceful state without international efforts. Over the past eight years, there has been a large international presence and violent groups all fighting for power. These stalemates result in an increase in victims and casualties. There is no real solution that can be implemented soon. When UN-backed groups attempt to end the chaos, there is always a setback. Without an overpowering group and consequences for those instilling this violence, the path to peace and security becomes more difficult to realize.
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