Fighting escalates in Derna


Fighting escalated in the Libyan city Derna, with air raids, shelling of residential areas and heavy ground clashes, the United Nations humanitarian office said.

There were severe water, food and medicine shortages and electricity and water were completely cut off for the city’s 125,000 residents, it said in a report that described the violence as “unprecedented”.

The eastern city has been encircled since July 2017 by the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose commander Khalifa Haftar opposes the internationally recognised government based in the country’s west.

Located on the coast around 270 km from the Egyptian border, it is the only major town in eastern Libya outside LNA control.
“The LNA announced it now has control over the city’s eastern and western entrances … and surrounding areas where clashes have been taking place,” the UN report said.

Haftar’s forces are trying to wrest the city from a coalition of local fighters and Islamists known as the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) or Derna Protection Forces (DPF).

Haftar is trying to rid Libya of the threat of militant Islamists. Critics accuse him of branding his opponents as “terrorists” as he seeks to expand his power.

The UN report said the LNA had taken control of Derna’s highest area and the DPF subsequently withdrew from the city’s industrial zone.
“Local sources report DPF are currently taking positions among civilian infrastructure in residential areas, mostly in the centre of the city and reportedly in civilian clothing,” the U.N report said, adding civilians were being prevented from leaving.

Until this month, the LNA campaign was largely limited to occasional air strikes and bombardments. Since May 22, indiscriminate shelling killed at least five civilians, including two children, the UN said.

Egypt, which backs the LNA, also carried out air strikes in Derna against what it said were training camps sending militants into Egypt to carry out attacks.

The LNA says its rivals in Derna are linked to al Qaeda. Jihadist group Islamic State established a presence in Derna in 2014, but was pushed out by the DMSC.

The UN said no aid entered the city since mid-March, apart from a delivery of kidney dialysis materials and medication earlier this week.