Libyan coronavirus hospital shelling 'breach of international humanitarian law', says UN

Libyan coronavirus hospital shelling 'breach of international humanitarian law', says UN
UN coordinator for Libya refrains from naming the perpetrator in a statement condemning Monday's attack on a coronavirus-designated hospital in the capital.
3 min read
07 April, 2020
The country has reported one death as a result of covid-19 complications. [Anadolou Agency]
The targeting of a coronavirus-designated hospital in Libya's Tripoli, which was shelled on Monday, is "a clear violation of international humanitarian law", a UN official said in a statement.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, condemned Monday's attack – which he said injured at least one health worker and damaged the 'fully-functioning' medical facility – without naming the group responsible.

"At a moment when people in Libya needed nothing more than a safe home and functioning medical facilities, we received the news of yet another attack on a hospital," Hillo said. 

The attack targetted Al-Khadra General Hospital, which houses 400 beds and was designated as a potential treatment center for covid-19 patients. 

While human rights activists and watchdogs in the country pointed fingers at rebel militia leader Khalifa Haftar, the UN statement made no mention of the ex-general.

"A deplorable strike like this, resulting in senseless damage of a most needed medical facility, cannot be justified," the statement said, adding that the number of health facilities damaged due to the proximity of clashes has totalled 27 as of March.

Libyan group Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) posted a video on Facebook, depicting men extinguishing fires outside the hospital, where some vehicles were also detroyed. 

"In light of its ongoing criminal record targetting ambulances, medical teams and hospitals, the Haftar terrorist militia has just now targeted Al-Khadra Hospital," the rights observer said in the video's caption.

On Tuesday, the observatory said critical cases were evacuated from the Al-Khadra Hospital, which it now refers to as "Independece Hospital".

Pro-revolution TV channel FebruaryStation also attributed the attack to Haftar's loyalist militia. 

Residents near the Tripoli hospital shared photos and videos captured from their homes – depicting the nearby hospital clouded in smoke. Another video circulated reportedly showing the hospital staff in panic, after the shelling.

"One woman miscarried and her baby died. She was terrified. Another war crime #Haftar," Libya-based human rights activist Annabel Rubio wrote in a tweet in response to a photo from inside the hospital. The New Arab could not independently confirm the claim. 

The shelling mainly damaged the hospital's maternity ward, local media reports said. 

Rubio additionally criticised the UN for not naming the militia in its statement.

Read also: Libya is catastrophically ill-equipped to battle a coronavirus outbreak. Here's why 

The UN – which has called for a global ceasefire in light of the pandemic – been trying to establish a ceasefire for the country, but truces have been repeatedly broken by Haftar's militia, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army. 

Haftar – who is accused of war crimes – launched a UAE-backed offensive on Libya last year, which has killed upwards of 1,000 people. The gulf state has endowed weapons and ammunition to the ex-general’s loyalists. 

The same day as the hospital attack, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) said that loyalist forces targeted the capital’s Mitiga International Airport, Anadolu Agency reported.

According to the World Health Organisation, Libya lacks essential testing kits and protective gear necessary to fight the pandemic.

Libya has only tested 312 samples in total for coronavirus infection –  18 of which have returned positive results – 
UN public health agency’s said in a report on Monday.