CAIRO: Gunmen killed two women and three children of the same family while they were driving on a highway near the capital, Tripoli, less than a week after an airstrike slammed into a house killing at least three civilians, a health official said Thursday.
The city has been the scene of fighting between rival militias since April. A UN-supported but weak government holds the capital, but the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) — which is associated with a rival government in the country’s east — is trying to seize it.
Abdel Rahman Al-Tamimi, his wife, sister and three children were traveling on Wednesday evening to the capital from their hometown of Aziziya, south of the city, when unknown militants opened fire on their car, Malek Merset, a health spokesman with the Tripoli government told The Associated Press. The family was headed to the capital, where the children, ages 3 to 6, were expected to receive vaccination shots, Merset said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. However, LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari blamed the attack on militias allied with the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government. “This is one of the systematic crimes carried out by militias against civilians,” he wrote on his official Facebook page. “In order to eradicate them and avenge the murdered, the battle shall continue.”
Earlier this week, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) held the LNA responsible for the shelling of a civilian residence that killed at least three civilians and the wounding of two, including children. The LNA denied the accusation saying that it targeted a military camp that the Tripoli militias used as an “operations room.”
The battle for Tripoli has stalled in recent weeks, with both sides dug in and shelling one another along the city’s southern reaches. The months of combat have killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands.
The fighting threatens to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Separately, Libya’s coast guard said that it has rescued 82 Europe-bound migrants, including 11 women and eight children off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
The rubber boat carrying migrants from Syria, Bangladesh, Sudan and many other African countries was stopped on Wednesday 64 km to the north of the western town of Zawiya, according to a statement released on Thursday by Libya’s navy.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe. In recent years, the EU has partnered with the coast guard and other Libyan forces to try to stop the dangerous sea crossings.
Rights groups, however, have criticized those efforts, saying they’ve left migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.