New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce. (AFP / Mahmud Turkia)
Updated 14 August 2019
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New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

  • Violence in Libya worsens refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, UN says
  • The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since Khalifa Haftar's offensive on Tripoli in April

CAIRO: Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce.

The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since eastern forces of the Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April to capture the city.

The airstrikes focused on the road linking the city center with a shuttered old airport that Haftar’s forces took back in April, and the neighborhoods of Wadi El-Rabie, Khallat El-Fujan and Suq Al-Jumaa.

The militias allied with the regime in Tripoli also shelled Haftar’s forces in the southern and eastern outskirts of the city.

Both sides had accepted the truce before the Eid Al-Adha holiday, though they each later claimed the other had violated the cease-fire.

Authorities at the Mitiga airport, Tripoli’s only functional airport, suspended flights for several hours on Sunday after reporting that a shell had landed a few meters away from the runway. The Tripoli militias blamed Haftar’s forces for the shelling.

No civilian casualties were reported on Tuesday, but fighting since April has killed more than 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and displaced more than 100,000 civilians from their homes.

Many of the displaced have tried to flee to Europe from the Libyan coast, leading to a renewed refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.

The refugees rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which both Italy and Malta have banned from their ports.

It is unclear where they might find a harbor, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest. About 150 of the refugees have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship Open Arms since they were rescued from the Mediterranean two weeks ago.

“This is a race against time,” said UNHCR special envoy Vincent Cochetel. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.”

Migrant numbers had been falling, but nearly 600 have died or gone missing this year in waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

The UNHCR said many of the refugees were “survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships must be allowed to dock immediately and their passengers given humanitarian aid.

“To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” he said.


Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

Updated 55 min 56 sec ago
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Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

  • Prime Minister Hariri says Israel drone crash was violation against Lebanon
  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the incident was 'very dangerous'

BEIRUT:  Anger erupted in Lebanon on Sunday after two Israeli drones crashed in south Beirut in a botched raid that was the most serious military escalation since 2006.

The first device, thought to be a surveillance drone, fell to ground between residential buildings in the Mouawad area after children threw stones at it. Israel is thought to have launched a second armed drone to destroy the first one, but it exploded near the Hezbollah media center in the southern Dahiyeh suburbs.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has described the crash of two Israeli reconnaissance drones over Beirut as a violation and “aggression” against Lebanese sovereignty.

“The new aggression ... constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward further tension,” he said. 

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday the incident was "very, very, very dangerous." He vowed to confront and shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese skies from now on.
 

Damage is seen inside the media office of the Lebanese Hezbollah group in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP)

Earlier on Sunday the Lebanese army confirmed that the drones were Israeli, while the Shiite group said one of the aircraft damaged its media centre.
“Two drones belonging to the Israeli enemy violated Lebanese airspace (at dawn)... over the southern suburbs of Beirut. The first fell while the second exploded in the air causing material damage,” an army statement said.
The early morning incident came hours after Israel launched air strikes in neighboring Syria.

The Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, telephoned Hariri and stressed the country’s rejection and condemnation of the repeated Israeli violations against Lebanese sovereignty.

FAST FACTS

  • The first drone fell to ground between residential building in the Mouawad area.
  • The second device exploded near Hezbollah media center in the Dahiyeh suburbs.
  • Lebanon will file a complaint with the Security Council to condemn the attack.

The Arab League said in a statement that “Aboul Gheit affirmed the Arab League’s full solidarity with Lebanon in this delicate situation and its readiness to play its role in maintaining security, stability and civil peace in Lebanon.”
The statement added that the organization strongly condemns the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, especially in its airspace, as a flagrant violation of Security Council resolution 1701.
The statement stressed that the Arab League hopes to all concerned parties would not escalate and restrain in order to prevent threatening the security and stability of Lebanon and the region.

Lebanese security stand at the site where an Israeli drone was said to have crashed in a stronghold of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon has made frequent complaints to the UN about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace.
In an apparent admission that the drone attack on Lebanon was an error, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”
The Lebanese Army said on Sunday it had cordoned off the drone crash site and military police were investigating the incident under the supervision of the judiciary.
A military source told Arab News: “The Lebanese army did not receive the remnants of the two drones immediately, but is in the process of receiving them from Hezbollah.
“The military investigation will focus on the purpose of the flight of the drones, and their route. It is clear that something went wrong during their flight.”
Hariri received a telephone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the incidents. The prime minister’s office said: “Pompeo stressed the need to avoid any escalation and to work with all parties to prevent any form of deterioration.”
Hezbollah spokesman, Mohamed Afif, said one of the two drones was rigged with explosives.
He said a second drone which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first drone less than 45 minutes later exploded in the air and crashed nearby — an explosion heard by residents of the area.

Afif told The Associated Press Sunday: “We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones.”

Hassan Nasrallah will respond in a televised speach later Sunday. (File/AFP)

The drones struck overnight in Beirut where residents reported one large explosion that shook the area, triggering a fire.

Initially they said the nature of the blast in the Moawwad neighborhood was not immediately clear, but said it might have been caused by an Israeli drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighboring Syria.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
Syrian state TV said the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.