Death toll nears 190 in Tripoli as Russia shields strongman Haftar at UN
Diplomats warn foreign powers backing rival sides in Libya threaten to turn the conflict into a full-blown proxy war
Tripoli — The death toll from rocket fire on the Libyan capital Tripoli that the UN-recognised government blamed on strongman Khalifa Haftar climbed to six on Wednesday, as diplomats sought to negotiate a ceasefire.
Diplomats have long complained that Libyan peace efforts have been stymied by major powers backing the rival sides, with Haftar ally Russia quibbling over the proposed wording of the ceasefire demand even as the bombardment of Tripoli intensifies.
Three of the six killed in the rocket fire on the south Tripoli neighbourhoods of Abu Salim and Al-Antisar late on Tuesday were women, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.
Abu Salim mayor Abdelrahman al-Hamdi confirmed the death toll and said 35 other people were wounded.
AFP journalists heard seven loud explosions as rockets also hit the city centre, the first since Haftar's Libyan National Army militia launched an offensive on April 4 to capture Tripoli from the government and its militia allies.
The LNA blamed the rocket fire on the "terrorist militias" whose grip on the capital it says it is fighting to end.
The bombardment came as diplomats at the UN Security Council began negotiations on a British-drafted resolution that would demand an immediate ceasefire in Libya.
The proposed text seen by AFP warns the Haftar offensive "threatens the stability of Libya and prospects for a UN-facilitated political dialogue and a comprehensive political solution to the crisis".
No Haftar criticism
After Britain circulated the text late Monday, a first round of negotiations was held during which Russia raised objections to references criticising Haftar, diplomats said.
"They were very clear. No reference anywhere," a council diplomat said.
During a tour of the Tripoli neighbourhoods worst hit by the rocket fire on Tuesday night, unity government head Fayez al-Sarraj said the Security Council must hold Haftar to account for his forces' "savagery and barbarism".
"It's the legal and humanitarian responsibility of the Security Council and the international community to hold this criminal responsible for his actions," Sarraj said in footage of the tour released by his office.
He said his government would seek Haftar's prosecution for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
"We are going to hand all the documentation to the ICC on Wednesday for a prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity," he said.
At least 189 people have been killed, 816 wounded and more than 18,000 displaced since Haftar ordered his forces to march on Tripoli, according to the World Health Organisation.
Britain was hoping to bring the ceasefire resolution to a vote at the Security Council before Friday, but diplomats pointed to Russia's objections as a hurdle.
The proposed measure echoed a call by UN chief Antonio Guterres, who was in Libya to advance prospects for a political solution when Haftar launched his offensive.
As consultations continued in New York on Wednesday, Russia's deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said "we need to have a nice document" but declined to give details on the areas of disagreement.
Asked if the draft resolution could be adopted this week, he said: "It depends on them, not us," without elaborating.
Haftar, seen by other allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as a bulwark against Islamists, has declared he wants to seize the capital.
He backs a rival administration based in eastern Libya that is refusing to recognise the authority of the Tripoli government.
The draft resolution calls on all sides in Libya "immediately to recommit" to UN peace efforts and urges all member states "to use their influence over the parties" to see that the resolution is respected.
Resolutions adopted by the council are legally binding.
Diplomats have long complained that foreign powers backing rival sides in Libya threatened to turn the conflict into a proxy war.
Saudi Arabia is also seen as a key Haftar supporter, while Qatar — which has tense relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi — has called for stronger enforcement of the UN arms embargo to keep weapons out of Haftar's hands.
Russia and France, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have praised Haftar's battlefield successes in defeating militias aligned with the Islamic State group in the south of the country.
Haftar's offensive forced the UN to postpone a national conference that was to draw up a roadmap to elections, meant to turn the page on years of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Guterres has said serious negotiations on Libya's future cannot resume without a ceasefire.