Eastern Libyan forces attack Tripoli hospital for second day

CAIRO (AP) — Rockets rained down on Libya’s capital Tuesday, health authorities in the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli said, the second day of heavy bombardment by eastern-based forces that struck one of the city’s largest hospitals.

The barrage of Grad rockets hit Al-Khadra Hospital, where over 300 patients were being treated, including two for the coronavirus and many for shrapnel wounds and burns from bombs.

The assault a day earlier wounded a Bangladeshi medical worker and forced a group of patients to evacuate when missiles hit part of the maternity unit and the power system failed, Tripoli health ministry official Amin al-Hashemi said. Patients suffering from chronic illnesses continued to be evacuated Tuesday.

Western militias allied with the U.N.-backed government shared images of a doctor performing surgery even as a rocket slammed into the building, shattering the windows of the operating theater.

In recent weeks, eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter have escalated their year-long siege of the capital despite appeals for a cease-fire so authorities can focus their resources on the pandemic. Their attack on Al-Khadra was the third such strike on a Tripoli medical facility over the past month.

Emptying the wards as the bombs fell required a major logistical effort that put seriously ill people at risk, al-Hashemi said. The coronavirus patients remained isolated during their transfer to a safer facility.

Three civilians were wounded as shells crashed into cars and houses in the surrounding neighborhood of Abu Salim, the Tripoli health ministry said.

Yacoub El Hillo, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said he was appalled by the attack, especially as the country’s crippled health sector scrambles to confront a steadily rising coronavirus case count. Al-Khadra is one of the few facilities set aside to handle virus patients in the war-torn country.

“A deplorable strike like this, resulting in senseless damage of a most needed medical facility, cannot be justified,” he said.

Conditions in western Libya worsened. The Great Man-Made River company, a pipe network supplying ground water from the Sahara, said Tuesday that an armed group had stormed its pumping station and cut off water supplies to most of the region. Doctors in the besieged neighborhood of Abu Salim expressed concern that hospital stockpiles of water would run out, while a power failure plunged western cities into darkness.

Libya has confirmed 20 cases of the coronavirus, all in the country’s west except for one in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The rival governments in the divided country have taken some steps to stem the spread of the virus, such as suspending flights and banning large gatherings. The Ministry of Justice in Tripoli announced that 1,347 inmates were released Tuesday in five western cities, to protect against contagion in crowded detention facilities.