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'We are not terrorists': Libyans cower as Egypt hunts phantom enemy

City of Derna surrounded and under attack by forces hunting an enemy that no longer exists, resident tells MEE
Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar fight in the al-Hut area of Benhgazi on 20 May (AFP)

The Libyan city of Derna is under siege and facing intense bombing by the Egyptian air force that is hunting an enemy who was kicked out more than two years ago, a resident has said.

Hamza al-Dernawy described to Middle East Eye a city isolated by forces loyal to the renegade general Khalifa Haftar, shops fast running out of food and medicine and a people facing an escalating bombing campaign by Haftar's Egyptian allies. 

'We are not terrorists, we do not call for war. We got rid of Islamic State in just eight months'

- Hamza al-Dernawy

Egypt launched air strikes on the city on Friday, claiming it housed extremist militants who had massacred 28 Christian pilgrims in an attack south of Cairo only hours before. The air strikes, backed by members of Haftar's Libyan National Army, have continued through to Monday.

"Derna is under siege by Haftar’s militias," said Dernawy. "Whoever attempts to leave is either kidnapped or subject to humiliation by the soldiers as they leave.”

"We have become used to air strikes - by Libyans, by Egyptians. Buildings have been destroyed, cars, homes."

He said claims by Egypt and Haftar that the city was a hotbed of "terrorists" was untrue.

"We are not terrorists, we do not call for war. We got rid of Islamic State in just eight months.

Derna has been in the control of the Derna Shura Council since 2015, after it kicked out members of the Islamic State who had attempted to take over the city. 

However, forces loyal to Haftar, whose stronghold is in Benghazi, have for years fought to gain control of the city, claiming the Shura Council is similarly a "terrorist" organisation.

Dernawy told MEE that Haftar's forces were preventing any medical supplies from reaching the population. "That is the most important thing," he said. "Women and children need medication, we have a lack of food supplies."

"Prices have skyrocketed due to the siege, we have no gas for cooking. One month they let some in, and one month they don't."

"We have no kidnapping in Derna, no assassinations, no bodies lying around. Our city was at least safe."

Dernawy said Hay al-Zintaan, a residential area, was one of several civilian areas hit by the Egyptian bombing.

Third wave of attacks

A third wave of air attacks was launched on Derna on Monday, following strikes on Friday and Saturday by Egyptian forces and their Haftar loyalist allies.

Egyptian military sources reported that Egyptian air force planes carried out six strikes directed at militant camps near Derna in Libya.

The Shura Council of Derna released a statement saying the strikes had hit civilian rather than military targets and that claims they were responsible for attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt were baseless.

They said Egypt's attacks were "war crimes" and that they had nothing to do with an attack south of Cairo last week which killed 29 Christians.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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