Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Libyans accuse Egypt of bombing civilians in eastern city

(AP) — Libyan lawmakers and forces controlling an eastern city on Tuesday accused Egypt’s air force of conducting airstrikes that killed a dozen civilians, including an entire family.

Lamwaker Hamad al-Bandaq told The Associated Press that fighter jets bombed a house in al-Fatayah district in eastern Darna late Monday, killing at least 12 people, mostly women and children visiting a sick relative.

A separate airstrike killed a shepherd and his family who were warming themselves by a fire pit on a chilly night.

The local authorities — the Shura Council of Darna Mujahedeen — that control the city, accused Egypt of carrying out the “brutal airstrike.”

Al-Bandaq said about 50 people were also wounded in the strikes, mostly residents of the area. “Many families slept in the open air that night,” he said.

A Libyan army spokesman, Col. Ali al-Mosmari, denied on Facebook that his forces were behind the attack in Darna, blaming it instead on “terrorists.” He also said authorities would investigate the attack. He didn’t elaborate.

The Egyptian army declined to comment.

Egypt has been carrying airstrikes across the Egyptian-Libyan border on Monday, around the same time of Darna’s strikes. The Egyptian army announced it destroyed six vehicles carrying weapons and killed a number of “criminal elements.” It said the strikes sought to deter “any attempt of infiltrating or smuggling across borders.”

Islamic militants on Oct. 20 ambushed Egyptian police near the Bahariya Oasis, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of Cairo, killing 16 policemen, according to the official death toll.

The oasis area is a gateway to Egypt’s vast Western Desert, which leads to lawless Libya. Authorities believe smugglers and militants use the route to infiltrate Egypt, and have blamed some attacks in the past on extremists transiting through there.

The Egyptian military has also in the past retaliated against militant attacks on its soil with strikes inside Libya, particularly in the Darna area, home to some of Libya’s most die-hard jihadis.

Also, Darna has been besieged by forces loyal to Libya’s most powerful army commander, Khalifa Hifter, who set up the Libya National Army to fight Islamic militancy. Hifter is heavily supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Several wanted Egyptian Islamic militants use Libya as a staging ground to carry out attacks inside Egypt, including Hisham el-Ashmawi, a former army officer who formed a group called el-Morabateen that is believed to be an al-Qaida affiliate.

Darna has over the past years changed hands from an al-Qaida-linked group to Islamic State fighters.

Local residents have repeatedly accused Hifter of waging a merciless air campaign against Islamic militants that kills civilians.

The U.N. mission in Libya condemned the attack in a statement on Tuesday. “Direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians are prohibited under international humanitarian law, and reminds all parties of their obligations to protect civilians,” it said.


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