An air strike hit a detention centre for mainly African migrants in a suburb of Libyan capital Tripoli, killing at least 40 and wounding 80, a health official said.
It is the highest publicly reported toll of an air strike or shelling since eastern forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive with ground troops and aircraft to take the capital held by the internationally recognised government three months ago.
Malek Mersek, spokesman for state emergency medical services, said 40 people were killed and 80 wounded in the strike on the detention centre in Tajoura suburb next to a military camp.
The Tripoli-based government said in a statement dozens of people were killed and wounded in an air strike blamed on the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar”.
Published photos showed African migrants undergoing surgery in a hospital after the strike. Others lay on beds, some covered in dust or with limbs bandaged.
Libya is a main departure point for migrants from Africa fleeing poverty and war and trying to reach Italy by boat. Many are picked up by the Libyan coast guard supported by the European Union, which wants to stop migration.
Thousands of migrants are held in government-run detention centres in western Libya in what human rights groups and the United Nations say are often inhuman conditions.
Tajoura is home to several military camps of forces allied to Libya’s internationally recognised government, targeted by air strikes for weeks.
On Monday, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), allied to a parallel government, said it would start heavy air strikes on targets in Tripoli after “traditional means” of war were exhausted.
An LNA official denied his force hit the detention centre, saying militias allied to Tripoli shelled it after a precision air strike by the LNA on a camp.
The LNA air campaign failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting. Last week LNA lost its main forward base in Gharyan, retaken by Tripoli forces.
Both sides enjoy military support from regional powers. The LNA for years has been supplied by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while Turkey recently shipped arms to Tripoli to stop Haftar’s assault, diplomats say.