A so-far unidentified warplane struck a leisure park in the central Libyan Jufra region on Tuesday, killing a number of civilians. This came amid heightened tensions between Libya’s armed factions and further undermines the position of the unity government, which is being blamed for coalescing with forces suspected of carrying out the attack.
Most sources said seven civilians – six women and one girl – were killed in the airstrike, although the municipal council of Shagiga put the number at nine killed and 30 injured.
Most of the victims were from Mashashia and Shagiga, two small towns south of Gharian, in the southern part of the Nafusa Mountains. The families were visiting natural sulphur springs at the Nina Agricultural Project, which is located in a remote area 200km southwest of Sirte.
Shagiga Municipal Council asked the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA), the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Interim Government to open an investigation into the incident. It also requested urgent medical assistance to the wounded, who were taken to Mizda hospital.
The attack has not been claimed, with mutual accusations mirroring the escalation between Libya’s political and armed factions.
Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari alleged that the warplanes that struck the site were part of the Misratan-led Bunyan Marsus coalition and launched from Misrata airbase. The intended target – so Mismari and other army sources – were army-affiliated forces. The army’s 12th Battalion had carried out a reconnaissance mission in the area of the Nina Agricultural Project on Monday, Mismari disclosed in his press conference in Benghazi on Tuesday.
The 12th Battalion is led by Mohamed Bin Nayil and based in the Wadi al-Shati area, further south, but it has recently been present in other regions.
Misratan sources vehemently denied reports incriminating their air force, labelling them slander. Mohamed Ganunu, a spokesman of the Misrata-based airforce, told Libya Channel that they did carry out six sorties on Monday and Tuesday, but that these were for surveillance only. “Our combat air strikes target Daesh snipers”, he said, adding that their key mission was tracking down IS militants trying to escape Sirte.
Mismari’s disclosures about Nayil’s forces were later said to be incorrect, although the airstrike might have been a Misratan reaction to erroneous reports.
Abderrahman Swehli, the head of the Tripoli-based State Council, and former GNC-member for Misrata, announced on Tuesday that the State Council would offer compensations to the victims’ families, according to Nabaa TV.
The GNA Presidency Council met in an emergency session Tuesday but did not issue any statement on the incident, indicating that its members were unable to agree on a common version. Speaking to the press, GNA Deputy PM Musa al-Koni condemned what he called the act of an “outlaw party”. He said the GNA Defense Ministry — led by designate minister Mahdi al-Barghathi – was investigating the attack. His colleague Ali al-Gitrani took a different stance, arguing that the UN mission to Libya and the International Community had “moral and legal responsibility for the attack”.
The eastern-based HoR and Interim Government backed the army spokesman’s interpretation.
“This criminal act was committed by airplanes launched from Misrata airbase, which is controlled by outlaw militias and by terrorist groups allied with them”, the Interim Government said in a statement on Tuesday.
HoR members from Greater Sirte (the 5th electoral district – Sirte, Jufra, Sidra) also issued a joint statement condemning the “cowardly act” as “yet another of many crimes against humanity” carried out by “militias linked to the GNA Presidency Council”.
“We hold the Presidency Council responsible…UNSMIL and Kobler [also] have a moral and legal responsibility as founding partner of the Presidency Council”, the statement said. The MPs expressed their condolences to the victims’ families and their tribe, the Mashashia.
“We call on the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces [HoR President Agila Saleh] and the Army leadership to protect civilians”, the statement concluded.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler reacted to the news on Twitter. “Shocked by reports of airstrikes in Jufra area killing many civilians, among them women and children. Civilian casualties are unacceptable”, he said from New York, where he was holding talks on Libya with international stake-holders ahead of the UN General Assembly annual ministerial meetings.