A member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, takes his position near a military camp in Tripoli, Libya, April 9, 2019.
A member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, takes his position near a military camp in Tripoli, Libya, April 9, 2019.

GENEVA - Aid agencies are urging rival militias in Libya to take all possible measures to protect civilians as fighting for control of the capital city, Tripoli, escalates and casualties mount.

In recent days, health facilities near Tripoli have reported 47 people killed and 181 wounded. The World Health Organization says nine civilians, including two doctors, are among the dead. One doctor reportedly was killed while working as part of a field ambulance service. 

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says the agency has documented dozens of attacks against health workers and facilities that killed and injured 32 health workers and patients since 2018.

Fighters from a Misrata armed group loyal to the i
Fighters from a Misrata armed group loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) prepare their ammunition before heading to the front line as battles against Forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar continue on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, April 9, 2019.

"To respond to this spike in violence, the health sector prepositioned supplies in advance in order to respond quickly and effectively," he said. "Emergency medical supplies and trauma kits were prepositioned in four strategic sites. The supplies are sufficient to treat up to 210,000 individuals for three months and to enable the treatment of up to 900 injuries." 

WHO fears a prolonged conflict will drain the limited available medical supplies on hand. An added problem, Jasarevic notes, is that the WHO is short of cash. He says the agency may not be able to meet the medical needs of the population if donors do not contribute more generously to its $43.5 million appeal.

International law

Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is appealing to all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international law. Her spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, says the warring parties must take all possible measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including airports, schools, hospitals and prisons.

"The high commissioner stresses that the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must at all times be fully respected," Shamdasani said. "Intentionally targeting civilians or civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks may amount to war crimes." 

The high commissioner is particularly concerned about the welfare of thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants in detention centers near the combat zone in Tripoli. Bachelet is urging authorities not to abandon them.

The United Nations issued an "urgent appeal" Monday for a two-hour truce in the suburbs of Tripoli to evacuate civilians.

Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya, Apr. 7, 2019.
UN Appeals for Humanitarian Truce in Libya

The United Nations has issued an "urgent appeal" for a two-hour truce in the suburbs of Tripoli to evacuate civilians and those wounded, as forces loyal to military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar continue a push aimed at taking the capital.

Libya's U.N.-backed prime minister, Fayez Sarraj, has called the action by Haftar an attempted coup. Haftar and his forces appear to have gained ground along the outskirts of the capital, but Sarraj said government troops are prepared to confront them.

UNSMIL, the U.N.