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Libya: Missile strikes on Tripoli hospital and residential areas injures at least 14

Health ministry says children wounded in missile attacks targeting Tripoli's central hospital and residential areas
The wreckage of a car outside the Khadra General Hospital in the Libyan capital Tripoli in April 2020 (AFP/File photo)

At least 14 people have been injured after several missiles targeted a hospital and residential areas of the Libyan capital Tripoli on Thursday, local media said.

The Libya Observer reported that at least two sections of Tripoli's Central Hospital were hit by rockets, which the UN-recognised government blamed on forces led by eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar.

Amin al-Hashemi, a health ministry spokesman, said parts of the hospital were damaged and children were among the injured.

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Meanwhile, Mohammed Haythem, the deputy minister of health, warned that further attacks could force the hospital to cease operations as the city grapples with rising Covid-19 cases. 

"The closure of the hospital will be devastating as the capital is battling the coronavirus pandemic," he told reporters. 

Forces under the command of Haftar have been laying siege to Tripoli since last April, trying to wrest control from the internationally recognised government.

The conflict has escalated sharply this month, with fierce fighting on several fronts despite urgent calls from the UN and aid agencies for a truce to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Attacks on hospitals 'far too frequent'

Tom Garofalo, the country director for International Rescue Committee, an NGO, said "thousands of lives were at risk" in Thursday's attack, as Tripoli's Central Hospital has around 5,000 staff and 950 beds.

"Attacks on hospitals in Libya are becoming far too frequent," he said in a statement. "This year there have been 17 attacks on field hospitals, ambulances, health care workers and medical supplies - further decimating the country's already struggling health system.

"Attacks on healthcare are a violation of international humanitarian law and it is long past time for the perpetrators of these attacks to be held accountable."

The attack on the hospital came hours after seven UN organisations called on rival parties to halt the fighting to allow authorities and aid organisations focus on curbing the spread of the disease.

There were 64 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including three deaths, in different parts of Libya, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday.

"This shows that local/community transmission is taking place. The risk of further escalation of the outbreak is very high," the agency said.

Libya has wracked by conflict since 2015 with the country split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups supported by foreign governments.

Haftar's forces are supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as mercenaries from Russia.

While the UN-recognised government in Tripoli is backed by Italy, Qatar, and Turkey. In January, Ankara has deployed troops and fighters to help the GNA defend the capital.