An air war in Libya is intensifying as rival forces in the divided country try to break a military stalemate, heightening significantly the risk of civilian casualties.
At least 45 people were killed and dozens wounded in an airstrike last Sunday that targeted a town hall meeting in south-western Libya. The forces of Khalifa Haftar, the 75-year-old military strongman who controls much of the east of the country, have been blamed.
The Guardian reports that witnesses said the attack on a residential district of Qalaa in the town of Murzuq came from a drone.
The death toll, which included many children, represents one of the largest single losses of civilian life since the civil war began in 2011 following the fall of the veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“The air war will intensify, as long as international reaction is pretty non-existent. The conclusion is that [actors] can get away with this, and they can do it again, even in more densely populated areas. These are thresholds that keep getting crossed,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an expert at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, while the GNA, recognised by the UN as the legitimate government of Libya, is backed by Turkey and Qatar.
Arnaud Delalande, an expert in Libyan military aviation and its role in the conflict, said small fleets maintained by both sides had been depleted by enemy fire, accidents and mechanical failures in the course of recent fighting. Though the LNA already had drones deployed, operated by the UAE, the GNA obtained its unmanned aircraft from Turkey.
“Both sides needed other options and drones were the best choice,” Delalande said.
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