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Libya: UN ready to assist probe into civilian deaths after bodies found at hospital

The bodies of 106 men, women and children were found at a hospital in territory previously held by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar
Libya's internationally-recognised government took full control of the city of Tarhuna last week (AFP)

The United Nations has said it is ready to assist Libya's internationally recognised government to investigate the deaths of more than 100 civilians whose bodies were discovered at a hospital in territory previously held by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar.

The UN secretary-general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said on Monday that the bodies, which included women and children, "remind us of the high price paid by civilians and the desperate and urgent need for an immediate cessation of hostilities".

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Last week, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) discovered the 106 bodies in Tarhuna hospital after retaking the city from Haftar's forces.

Officials from the GNA said the bodies appeared to have been executed and also displayed signs of torture. 

Dujarric expressed concern at the discovery and called on the GNA to "conduct an immediate and impartial investigation".

Located about 40 miles southeast of Tripoli, Tarhuna acted as a major focal point for supply lines for Haftar's forces at the al-Jufra airbase in central Libya.

GNA victories

Since Turkey deployed its military and thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya earlier this year, Haftar's forces have lost crucial ground to the GNA, with the internationally recognised government claiming a string of victories including the capture of the strategic al-Watiya airbase.

Haftar's forces launched an offensive on Tripoli last spring but have been pushed back to the city of Sirte, despite being backed Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenaries.

The GNA has vowed to capture the coastal town of Sirte and the al-Jufra airbase, which currently houses 14 Russian MiG-29s and Su-24s.

The recent losses have seen the UAE and Egypt back ceasefire talks which the GNA has so far rejected.

Taking Sirte would open the way for the Tripoli-allied fighters to press even farther eastward and potentially seize control of vital oil installations, terminals and oil fields that tribes allied with Haftar shut down earlier this year, cutting off Libya's major source of income.

In a separate development, a video surfaced on a local Libyan television on Monday reportedly showing an Emirati officer instructing Haftar's forces to bomb a GNA target.

The clip, broadcast by the pro-GNA Free Libya channel, showed the officer inside a Russian Pantsir S1 air defence system.

Libya has been 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.

According to the UN mission in Libya, fighting between January and March resulted in more than 100 civilians casualties, and recent clashes have forcibly displaced at least 16,000 people.