Renewed fighting ended a fragile cease-fire in Libya as U.N. officials cited arms embargo violations and urged warring parties on Monday to investigate the deadly airstrikes that killed at least 53 people last July.
Over the weekend at least three people were killed and two dozen others wounded in skirmishes between Libya's civil war factions as renegade general Khalifa Haftar advanced on areas under the control of Libya's prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his U.N.-backed Government of National Accord, or GNA.
The fighting resumed despite Germany hosting the heads of Libya's two main warring factions and leaders of 11 nations at United Nations-supported talks a week earlier in Berlin, where they agreed to set up a cease-fire committee and respect a widely ignored arms embargo.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said all parties in Libya's civil war had accepted "a far-reaching plan for the way forward" during a half-day summit on January 19 with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and his special representative, Ghassan Salamé, head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL.
On Monday, the joint report from UNSMIL and the Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, called for accountability in the July airstrikes targeting a building complex in Tajoura that housed a detention center for hundreds of migrants and refugees.
“As I have said previously, the Tajoura attack, depending on the precise circumstances, may amount to a war crime,” Michelle Bachelet, head of OHCHR, said in a statement. “Libyans, migrants and refugees are trapped amid violence and atrocities that are in turn fueled by impunity. Those guilty of crimes under international law must be held to account.”
The 13-page U.N. report was intended to prevent a similar tragedy from happening, Salamé said. At least 287 civilians were killed and 369 civilians injured in the civil war last year, according to the report, with 60% of the casualties attributed to airstrikes.
The airstrikes came from an armed group, the Daman Brigade, allied with al-Sarraj's U.N.-backed GNA, the report said, though it was unclear if they were commanded by Libya's army or another country.
“The July 2019 attack at Tajoura is a tragic example of how the use of air power has become a dominant feature in Libya’s civil conflict, and of the dangers and direct consequences on civilians of foreign interference,” said Salamé. “This is why the commitments made in Berlin on 19 January to end such interference and uphold the U.N. arms embargo must take hold.”
'Constructive' talks, broken promises
Days earlier, Russia and Turkey also sought to broker a cease-fire deal in Moscow. But the fighting resumed, ending a two-week cease-fire amid U.N. warnings of new weapons shipments into Libya.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Haftar's main supporters, have been supplying his forces with arms as he blockaded oil exports. Turkey has been sending arms and troops to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, also supported by Italy and Qatar.
The renewed fighting occurred soon after U.N. officials said there were continuing "blatant violations” of the arms embargo on Libya by several unidentified nations, despite the pledges in Berlin to abide by it.
The talks in Berlin included al-Sarraj, Haftar and representatives of the African Union, Algeria, Arab League, Britain, China, Egypt, European Commission and Council, France, Italy, Congo Republic, Russia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
"Participants have undertaken to comply with the U.N. arms embargo and to stop supplying the Libyan parties to the conflict with combatants or arms," Merkel said in a statement after the January 19 talks. "All participants have really cooperated most constructively."