March 24, 2020 / 9:55 PM / 9 days ago

Prison shelled in Libyan capital despite ceasefire pleas to focus on coronavirus

TUNIS (Reuters) - A prison in the Libyan capital Tripoli was shelled on Tuesday, injuring several people, its warden said, as a bombardment intensified despite pleas for a ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar has been trying since last year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The prison, in the Ain Zara district in southern Tripoli, is in an area held by pro-GNA forces, not far from a front line where a fighter with the GNA said intense clashes took place on Tuesday.

Heavy artillery was audible across Tripoli for much of Tuesday and into the evening, with the capital’s residents under a lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, though no cases of the disease have yet been confirmed in Libya.

A military source with the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, said it had shot down a drone on Tuesday evening. The GNA is supported by Turkey.

The acting head of the U.N. mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, issued a statement condemning “the repeated shelling of Ain Zara neighbourhood, including the al-Rwemi prison, reportedly by forces affiliated with the Libyan National Army”.

Last week, the U.N. and numerous countries individually urged both sides in the fighting to accept a truce to allow Libya to focus on preparing for the coronavirus, a pandemic that has killed more than 17, 200 people worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.

Both the GNA and the LNA publicly welcomed the idea of a ceasefire, but fighting broke out again soon afterwards.

(This story removes incorrect name from reporting credit)

Reporting by Hani Amara in Istanbul and Angus McDowall in Tunis; editing by Grant McCool

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