Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Car bomb in Benghazi kills five just hours after Libya ceasefire

Warring sides agreed to a UN-backed Eid pause in fighting before the blast killed at least three members of the UN mission to the country

Libyans gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi that killed three members of the UN mission. AFP
Libyans gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi that killed three members of the UN mission. AFP

Three UN staff members and two others were killed when a bomb-laden vehicle exploded on Saturday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi just hours after the country’s warring sides agreed to an Eid ceasefire.

Health officials said the blast took place outside Arkan Mall in the Hawari neighbourhood, where people were gathering for shopping a day before the Eid Al Adha holiday began.

The Benghazi municipal council said the attack targeted a convoy for the UN Support Mission in Libya. The site of the attack is close to offices of the mission in Libya. Two of the dead were from Libya and the blast wounded nine people, according to health officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said that three UN workers were among the wounded.

“The secretary general extends his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a swift recovery to all the injured. He calls on the Libyan authorities to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” Mr Dujarric said.

He also said the secretary general urged “all parties to respect the humanitarian truce during Eid Al Adha and return to the negotiating table to pursue the peaceful future the people of Libya deserve”.

The UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned what he called a “cowardly attack”.

“This attack will not discourage us, nor will it prevent us from carrying on with our duties to bring about peace, stability and prosperity to Libya and its people,” he said.

Mr Salame said the commitment of the parties of the UN-proposed ceasefire in Tripoli “sends an irrevocable message that the blood of Libyans, and UN staff … was not shed in vain in this heinous explosion.”

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Saturday afternoon about the situation.

Assistant Secretary General for Africa Bintou Keita told members the attack took place in an area “supposedly under full security control” of the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter.

She said the attack “highlights the continued danger of terrorism across the country”, and it confirms that the latest hostilities are creating a vacuum “easily exploited by radical elements that thrive on chaos and violence”.

Ms Keita said the UN does not intend to evacuate from Libya and she expressed hope that both sides will abide by their commitment to the Eid ceasefire.

Footage circulated online shows what appears to be burnt UN-owned vehicles as thick smoke billows into the sky.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just a month after two bomb-laden vehicles went off in Benghazi, the stronghold for the LNA. The July attack killed at least four people and wounded 33 others.

If it holds, the ceasefire would be the first since the LNA launched a surprise military offensive on April 4 aimed at capturing Tripoli. It brought about fierce battles with rag-tag militias loosely allied with a UN-supported but weak administration in the capital.

Libyans eat desserts after breaking their fast on the evening prior to the start of the Muslim religious festival of Eid al-Adha in the Libyan capital Tripoli on August 10, 2019. Known as the "big" festival, Eid Al-Adha is celebrated each year by Muslims sacrificing various animals according to religious traditions, including cows, camels, goats and sheep. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA
Libyans eat desserts after breaking their fast on the evening prior to the start of the Muslim religious festival of Eid Al Adha in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. AFP

The battle for Tripoli has killed more than 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and has displaced more than 100,000 civilians. Thousands of African migrants captured by Libyan forces supported by the European Union are trapped in detention centres.

In recent weeks, the battle lines have changed little, with both sides dug in and shelling one another in the southern reaches of the capital. Fighters have also resorted heavily to air strikes and attacks by drones.

Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed long-ruling dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Armed groups have proliferated and the country has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty for a better life in Europe.

The LNA is the largest and best organised of the country’s many armed groups, and enjoys the support of Egypt, the UAE and Russia. However, the international community has called for an end to the fighting around Tripoli and a return to the UN-backed peace process.

The LNA has faced stiff resistance from fighters aligned with the UN-recognised government, which is aided by Turkey and Qatar.

Updated: August 11, 2019 10:24 PM

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