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Libya: UN refugee agency deeply concerned by shelling

Shelling near a major facility run by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Thursday, has sparked deep concern for the safety of refugees and asylum seekers there.

Following news that three mortars fell close to its year-old Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR Chief of Mission for Libya issued a statement urging all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“Fortunately”, he said, “there were no casualties”.

Since the fall of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in the throes of ongoing instability and economic collapse, despite its large oil reserves.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between factions of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, based in the east, and the internationally-recognized government, based in Tripoli. LNA forces have laid siege to the southern outskirts of the capital for more than six months.

On Saturday, Ghassan Salamé, head of the UN Support Mission in the country, UNSMIL, issued a statement condemning recent airstrikes in three locations in the west, which targeted civilian installations that left at least three people dead and several others injured.

Mr. Cavalieri said that the Libyan authorities have permitted UNHCR and its partner, LibAid, to operate services at the GDF since it opened in December 2018.

“The GDF was established to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation”, he explained. “With close to 1,000 people staying at the site including groups of around 900 individuals who entered spontaneously since July, it is severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.”

Tweets for peace

Meanwhile, UNSMIL sent out a series of tweets on Friday welcoming a New Year’s Day announcement by a group of activists in eastern Libya calling for de-escalation, ending hostilities and lasting peace in the country.

“This initiative and similar previous calls by a number of parliamentarians and other political and social and civil society groups should be supported and encouraged to facilitate the return to a political solution”, tweeted the mission.

It said that these initiatives demonstrate the commitment of the Libyan people to “stop the bloodshed; promote human rights; establish rule of law; and build an inclusive and united State for all Libyans”.

In a related development, the Turkish Parliament approved on Thursday, a mandate to deploy troops to Libya to intervene in the civil war, noting that Turkey is allied with Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Guterres calls for immediate ceasefire

The Secretary-General releaased a statement late on Friday, renewing his call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and a return to political dialogue: "Any foreign support to the warring parties will only deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a peaceful and comprehensive political solution", it added.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that the continued violations of the Security Council arms embargo imposed by resolution 1970 (2011) and as modified by subsequent resolutions, only make matters worse", the statement from a Spokesperson for António Guterres said. "Strict adherence to the embargo is essential for creating an environment favorable to a cessation of hostilities."

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