Gunmen cut off the main water pipeline to Libya’s besieged capital, Tripoli, spelling more misery for residents reeling from weeks of fighting.
The United Nations said the water cut was a possible war crime as Libya’s internationally recognised government accused forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, trying to capture Tripoli, of being behind the stoppage.
The group of gunmen raided a station on the Great Man-Made River Project, a pipe network supplying ground water from the Sahara. They apparently forced employees to turn off water feed at the installation south of Tripoli.
The eastern forces of Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) launched an assault on Tripoli in early April and are bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to the UN-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
In past attacks on the pipeline, one of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s few development projects, it took up to two days for households to notice water shortages in the coastal city of 2.5 million people.
The Tripoli government blamed a group that cut water supplies in 2017, saying its commander, Khalifa Ehnaish, belonged to Haftar’s forces.
The LNA denied that. Ehnaish could not be reached.
“Considering this was a closure of the valves in an LNA-controlled area, the complicity of Ehnaish with the LNA in orchestrating this cannot be discounted,” said Emad Badi, a non-resident scholar with the Middle East Institute.
Fighting in the battle for Tripoli has killed at least 510, forced 75,000 from their homes, trapped migrants in detention centres and flattened some southern suburbs.
It also forced closure of schools, split families on different sides of the front line and brought power cuts.
The conflict is one of the most serious flare-ups in years of chaos since the 2011 toppling of Gaddafi and sharpened Gulf divisions over Libya.