An air strike on a prison has killed five people in a Libyan desert town where armed factions have been fighting along a strategic route from the southern border region to Tripoli, a medical source said.
No one claimed responsibility for the strike in Sabha, but forces aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli control a desert air base there that previously came under air attack from rivals allied with eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
Two guards and three prisoners were killed in the strike on the prison in Sabha and four people wounded on Tuesday, the medical source said.
The southern front line has focused on control around the Tamanhent air base north-east of Sabha. The fighting risks escalating into a major confrontation between forces tied to the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Haftar is aligned with a former eastern parliament and government that have rejected the GNA since it arrived in Tripoli, in the far west of the country, more than a year ago as part of UN efforts to stabilise Libya.
His forces have extended control along Libya’s central Mediterranean coast and southwards into the desert regions of Jufra and Sabha. He says they intend to take over Tripoli though some analysts doubt his military strength.
Tamanhent is controlled by a force from Misrata, a militarily powerful western city backing the GNA.
Since 2014, loose military alliances based in the east and west of Libya have been engaged in intermittent conflict and the Western-backed GNA has struggled to extend control even in Tripoli, where rival militia factions operate.