The death toll from a Friday mortar attack on a peaceful political rally in Benghazi has risen to six, medical sources said, as unknown assailants shelled the same square for the second time on Saturday morning.
Dozens of protesters had gathered on the city’s Kish Square to show support for the Libyan army that under the orders of General Khalifa Haftar has launched a new offensive to take back Sirte from the so-called Islamic State.
Participants also chanted against the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which has denounced the unilateral decision to move on Sirte calling it a breach of military law.
The attacked started at 6pm. Three rockets hit an area near the square Khalil Gwaidar, spokesman of Benghazi medical center, said. One more landed an hour later.
Witnesses at the rally said the rockets landed to the left and to the right of the stage from where activists and politicians were addressing the crowd. Videos of the attack showed terrified people scattering running for cover from flying shrapnel. Among the dead was a woman and a 12-year-old child and four young men.
On Saturday morning four more shells landed in the same area. No one was hurt.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but the so-called Islamic State is believed to be behind it. IS have been pushed out of several neighborhoods in the city since the army launched “Blood of the Martyrs” offensive in February to “purge” the city of extremists.
Head of Benghazi’s security directorate told Libya Channel that the attack was launched from Souq al-Hoot, in the north of the city or Garyunis in the west – areas which are currently held by groups including Isis.
IS, that is fighting alongside al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia and armed coalition the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council, has retreated from Leithi, Boatni, Sidi Faraj and most of Huwari in the town.
Several political figures condemned the attacks and sent their condolences to the families.
Aguila Saleh, head of the internationally-recognised parliament the House of Representatives, called it “cowardly” and “treacherous”.
“We stress within this context that such cowardly terrorist acts will only make us stronger and more determined,” he said in a Saturday statement.
Meanwhile UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler said it could amount to a war crime.
“Under International Humanitarian Law, carrying out direct attacks on civilians or indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Those responsible can be prosecuted, including by the International Criminal Court,” the Saturday statement read.
“Whoever is responsible must be held accountable,”he added.
UK ambassador to Libya reiterated his words adding a “peaceful protest should not be targeted by violent attacks”.