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Third Day of Fighting Rocks Libyan Capital Amid Country's First Coronavirus Case

Fighters of a military battalion loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Hafta patrol the streets in the eastern city of Benghazi during a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus disease outbreak, March 21, 2020.

Libyan fighter jets flew over the strategic al-Watiya Airbase near the capital Tripoli, amid conflicting reports over which side now controls the area. Sporadic fighting also continued in the capital Wednesday, as residents reported artillery shells falling in various parts of the city.

The fighting came as the Tripoli-based National Unity Government reported the country's first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Dr. Ehmid Mohammed Bin Omar urged Libyans to heed the health ministry's safety recommendations, adding that the ministry is taking measures to care for the infected patient.

Hatem al Oraibi, spokesman for the rival government based in Tobruk, told journalists that measures were being taken in eastern towns and cities to address the coronavirus crisis. He said equipment and medication to treat the virus have been sent to area hospitals and that a hospital was being readied in Benghazi to accommodate suspected victims.

FILE - Boys stand near a damaged house after shells fell on a residential area, south of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 28, 2020.
FILE - Boys stand near a damaged house after shells fell on a residential area, south of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 28, 2020.

Meanwhile, areas in and around Tripoli experienced what some residents were calling the "worst fighting" in the city since the fall of former Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi in 2011.

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising into the air in the southern Tripoli district of Bou Salim as forces loyal to the two rival governments tried to advance.

Heavy fighting occurred at the western al-Watiya Airbase after a Tripoli-based commander tried to wrest it from forces loyal to eastern military commander Gen. Khalifa Hafter. Both sides are claiming control of the base.

Hafter's forces provided video on social media showing a Syrian mercenary whom they say was captured in the fighting. The man said in the video he was sent to Libya by the Turkish government, which pays his salary.

Turkey backs the national unity government, while Hafter's forces are backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Fighting erupted in and around Tripoli three days ago, after a coronavirus cease-fire broke down after being agreed to by both sides. It was not immediately clear which side was responsible for the renewed fighting.