An air strike late on Tuesday hit a detention centre for mainly African migrants in the Tajoura suburb of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, killing dozens, according to health and emergency officials.
Several bodies lay on the floor of the hangar in Tajoura, while ambulances rushed to the scene [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]
“Health officials said they have picked up at least 35 bodies so far, and more bodies could be under the rubble,” said Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdel Wahed, reporting from Tripoli.
Wahed said that the centre housed about 150 migrants from different nationalities, most of them from African countries such as Sudan, Eretria and Somalia.
Centre officials blamed the raid on the forces of Libyan renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting the internationally recognised government based in Tripoli for the past three months.
“This is the not the first time that Haftar forces have targeted the centre. It came under attack in April when Haftar forces began their campaign to capture Tripoli,” Al Jazeera’s Wahed said.
“Military sources in the government say Haftar forces are committing war crimes by targeting civilians and residential areas.”
Reuters reported at least 40 people killed and 80 others wounded in the strike quoting a health official, while emergency services spokesman Osama Ali told AFP nearly 40 people were killed.
“This is a preliminary assessment and the toll could rise,” Ali said.
Several bodies lay on the floor of the hangar in Tajoura, while ambulances rushed to the scene. Pictures published by Libyan officials showed African migrants undergoing surgery in a hospital after the strike.
Libya is a main departure point for migrants from Africa and Arab countries trying to reach Italy by boat, but many get picked up by the Libyan coast guard supported by the European Union.
Thousands are being held in government-run detention centres in what human rights groups say are often inhuman conditions.
Tajoura, east of Tripoli’s centre, is home to several military camps of forces allied to Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which for three months has been battling Haftar forces trying to take Tripoli.
On Monday, the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) said it would start heavy air strikes on targets in Tripoli after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted.
The Haftar-led LNA, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya, denied it had hit the detention centre, saying militias allied to Tripoli had shelled it after a precision air strike by the LNA on a camp.
The LNA has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting and last week lost its main forward base in Gharyan, which was taken back by Tripoli forces.
“Haftar forces have intensified air strikes after they lost strategic city of Gharyan last week,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.