Half a million children at risk in Libya: Unicef

Tripoli: Nearly half a million children are at “direct risk” in Libya as rogue general Khalifa Haftar’s forces advance on the UN-recognized government in the capital of Tripoli, according to Unicef.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UN agency said: “Violence has escalated over the past few days in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Nearly half a million children in Tripoli and tens of thousands more in the western areas are at direct risk due to the intensification of fighting.

“Unicef calls on all parties to the conflict to protect every child at all times and keep them out of harm’s way in line with International Humanitarian Law.

“Unicef reminds all parties to refrain from committing grave violations against children, including the recruitment and use of children in fighting.

The agency said it would remain on the ground during the conflict to provide support to children and their families.

The violence began when Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army from a stronghold in the east, declared an offensive to take control of Tripoli from Libya’s UN-backed government last week.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Government of National Accord, accused Haftar of attempting to carry out a coup.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that at least 47 people were killed and 181 wounded in the first three days of fighting in the beleaguered North African country.

Nine of the dead were civilians, including two doctors working to provide critical healthcare in Tripoli, the WHO said. About 3,400 people have been displaced, according to UN estimates.

Militias from the coastal towns of Misrata and Zawia — which are not under the UN-recognized government’s direct control — deployed troops to the capital as part of the counter-offensive against the LNA.

The UN had planned to hold a conference between April 14 and 16 in the Libyan town of Ghadames to broker a solution to the crisis.

Amid the escalation of fighting, the UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame called for the conference to be held “as soon as possible” — but it was unclear when that would be, given recent developments.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Benghazi last week for talks with Haftar to push for an international peace deal, but left empty handed.

Much of the international community, including the US, called for a ceasefire. The US military was among those to withdraw their supporting forces based in the country, blaming the “complex and unpredictable” situation and “increased unrest” on the ground.