Fighting in the Libyan city Derna has escalated to unprecedented levels, with air raids and shelling of residential areas as well as heavy ground clashes, the United Nations humanitarian office said.
There are severe water, food and medicine shortages, and electricity and water have been completely cut off for the city’s 125,000 residents, it said in a report.
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.
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).
Their surge over recent days overshadowed high-level talks in Paris this week that tried to chart a way out of Libya’s turmoil and set a goal of holding elections in December.
Following fighting on Wednesday, the LNA took control of most entry points to Derna from the west, LNA spokesman Abdulkarim Sabra said. The LNA claimed control of the city’s al-Fatayih Industrial Zone and strategic hills over the Bab Tubruk district.
Electricity supply was restored on Thursday after maintenance to a power plant hit by shelling earlier in the week, according to Sabra and a Derna resident.
LNA forces had about 20 men killed and 35 wounded since fighting intensified earlier this month, mostly due to mines, Sabra added.
He estimated more than 100 DMSC or DPF combatants were killed and another 100 handed themselves in. The numbers could not be independently verified.
The LNA says it is targeting militants including foreign fighters with links to al Qaeda. Its critics say the LNA has branded all its opponents as “terrorists” as it tries to seize the only city in eastern Libya outside its control.
Until this month, the LNA campaign had been largely limited to occasional air strikes and bombardments. Since May 22, indiscriminate shelling killed at least five civilians, including two children, the UN said.
“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 UN report said, adding civilians were prevented from leaving.
The UN said no aid entered the city since mid-March, apart from a delivery of kidney dialysis materials and medication earlier this week.
Neighbouring Egypt, which backs the LNA, has carried out air strikes in Derna against what it said were training camps sending militants into Egypt to carry out attacks.
Separately, an LNA battalion said it repelled an attack on Thursday against positions at Tamanhent air base in Libya’s central desert. It has controlled the base since May last year.