UN: Rockets hit civilian areas in Libya’s capital Tripoli

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Rockets and mortar shells were reportedly fired on residential neighborhoods in Libya’s capital Tripoli, where heavy fighting has led to a deteriorating humanitarian situation, the United Nations said Friday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. is “gravely concerned” at continued reports of indiscriminate shelling of populated areas, including Thursday night.

Forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive to take Tripoli earlier this month and are battling militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported government based there.

Dujarric said nearly 39,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“Civilians in conflict-affected areas are experiencing electricity cuts and water shortages as a result of damaged infrastructure, while access to essential items such as food, medicine and fuel is severely disrupted,” he said.

Hifter’s offensive on Tripoli could plunge the oil-rich country into another spasm of violence, possibly the worst since the 2011 civil war that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The country is governed by rival authorities: The weak U.N.-supported government in Tripoli and the government in the east, which Hifter is aligned with. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.

Hifter has vowed to unify the country after years of chaos and has led previous campaigns against Islamic militants and other rivals in eastern Libya. He has received support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France.

Hifter launched his offensive 10 days before a national conference that was to bring all Libyan factions together.

U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame, who had been trying to organize the meeting, has been traveling in Europe this week — including in Paris on Friday — to urge international support for a cease-fire.

Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, told reporters Friday that Salame is “working towards a cessation of hostilities” before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts May 6.

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