Three killed in hit-and-run attack

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Three people were killed in a suspected hit-and-run attack by Islamic State militants on a town in southern Libya, residents and a military official said, the second such attack in days.

In Tripoli, three rockets hit a western suburb overnight close to the fortified UN compound but otherwise there was less fighting than last week as life slowed down with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Gunmen stormed the southern town Ghadwa and opened fire before retreating into the desert, residents said.

The attack came after nine soldiers were killed in an attack claimed by Islamic State on a training camp for the eastern Libyan forces of commander Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) took control of the south earlier this year. He concentrated his forces in the north-west, where they have been embroiled in a month-long battle for Tripoli with fighters allied to the divided country’s internationally recognised government, based there.

Islamic State is active in the south, having retreated there after losing its Sirte city stronghold in December 2016.

The LNA, whose power base is in eastern Libya, has been unable to breach the southern defences of Tripoli forces and fighting diminished since the start on Monday of Ramadan.

Around three rockets hit the western Janzour suburb targeting a police station and factory near the UN compound, a resident said.

The United Nations failed to broker a ceasefire after the offensive took it by surprise. Its special envoy Ghassan Salame stayed on the ground with the Libya mission greatly reducing staffing levels, UN officials say.

A senior health worker was badly wounded travelling in an ambulance in southern Tripoli reportedly attacked by LNA-affiliated fighters, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in a statement.

Separately, two boats carrying 214 migrants were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard late on Wednesday and taken back to the shore, the UN migration agency said.

“As clashes continue in the capital, we are concerned about the return and arbitrary detention of migrants in #Libya,” the International Organisation for Migration said in a tweet.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said 107 people on the first boat included 12 women and seven children, while another 107 on the second were all men, 92 Sudanese. There were no reports of missing people or bodies retrieved.

T independent AlarmPhone website, which provides a hotline for boat people in distress, said it was in touch with a boat with about 150 people on board, using clothes to plug a hole and panicking.

The western Libyan coast is a major departure point for mainly African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty and trying to reach Italy across the Mediterranean Sea with the help of human traffickers.

Smuggling activity slowed when forces loyal to Haftar launched the offensive on Tripoli, but human trafficking has picked up since last week.