At least 40 killed and dozens wounded in attack on a migrant detention centre in Libyan capital, health officials say.
An air attack late on Tuesday hit a detention centre for mainly African migrants in the Tajoura suburb of the Libya’s capital Tripoli, killing at least 40 people, according to health and emergency officials.
Malek Mersek, spokesman for a state emergency medical services, said 80 others were wounded in the strike on the detention centre located next to a military camp.
“This is a preliminary assessment and the toll could rise,” emergency services spokesman Osama Ali told AFP news agency.
Bodies were strewn on the floor of the hangar, mixed with the belongings and blood-soaked clothes of migrants, an AFP photographer said.
Rescuers were searching for survivors under the rubble, while dozens of ambulances rushed to the scene.
The internationally recognised government based in Tripoli said in a statement that dozens of people had been killed and wounded in an air strike blamed on the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar”.
The centre reportedly housed about 150 migrants from different nationalities, most of them from African countries such as Sudan, Eretria and Somalia.
Centre officials blamed the raid on the forces of Libyan renegade general Haftar, who has been fighting the Tripoli-based government for the past three months.
“This is the not the first time that Haftar forces have targeted the centre. It came under attack in April when Haftar forces began their campaign to capture Tripoli,” Al Jazeera’s Wahed said.
“Military sources in the government say Haftar forces are committing war crimes by targeting civilians and residential areas.”
Pictures published by Libyan officials showed African migrants undergoing surgery in a hospital after the strike.
Libya is a main departure point for migrants from Africa and Arab countries trying to reach Italy by boat, but many get picked up by the Libyan coast guard supported by the European Union.
Thousands are being held in government-run detention centres in what human rights groups say are often inhuman conditions.
Tajoura, east of Tripoli’s centre, is home to several military camps of forces allied to Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which for three months has been battling Haftar forces trying to take Tripoli.
On Monday, the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) said it would start heavy air strikes on targets in Tripoli after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted.
The Haftar-led LNA, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya, denied it had hit the detention centre, saying militias allied to Tripoli had shelled it after a precision air strike by the LNA on a camp.
The LNA has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting and last week lost its main forward base in Garyan, which was taken back by Tripoli forces.
“Haftar forces have intensified air strikes after they lost strategic city of Garyan last week,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.
The UN refugee agency said it was “extremely concerned” at reports of the strikes on the migrant centre.
“UNHCR is extremely concerned about news of air strikes targeting Tajoura detention centre east of Tripoli, and accounts of refugees and migrants deceased,” it tweeted.
“Civilians should never be a target.”
The UN’s mission in Libya has said around 3,500 migrants and refugees held in detention centres near the combat zone are at risk.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since 2011, when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed during the Arab Spring uprising.
The country has since descended into chaos with a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country. The north African country has had two rival governments over the last few years.
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