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Battle for Libya's Tripoli kills at least 29 civilians as Amnesty International warns of war crimes

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Fighters loyal to Libya's U.N.-backed GNA near Tripoli on May 21, 2019
Fighters loyal to Libya's U.N.-backed GNA near Tripoli on May 21, 2019 -
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REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
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Indiscriminate attacks in residential areas of Libya's Tripoli may amount to war crimes, Amnesty International has warned.

The human rights organisation sounded the alarm as the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces loyal to rebel general Khalifa Haftar battle it out for control of Libya's strategically-important capital city.

Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the GNA on April 4.

By May 17, at least 29 civilians had been killed and 126 had been injured, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), exceeding the 20 civilian deaths recorded across the country in the first three months of the year.

Reyad el Hamil lost his mother, Zenib, on April 17. She was one of seven people to be killed when a mortar hit the Hay al-Intissar district, a mainly residential area.

'I couldn't breathe'

"When I saw the blood all over the place, I lost it. And now I have a strange feeling. I mean when your mother dies in your hands... you lose it. I was shocked, I couldn't breathe," he told Euronews' Anelise Borges.

The area was also targeted later on the same day, leaving grieving residents angry.

"Do you see here any military installations here? All just old women, men and young energetic lively children - look!" he lamented.

"We want the international war crime tribunal to help us open an investigation," he added.

Reyab's neighbourhood was one of three identified by Amnesty International as having been "indiscriminately attacked with rockets during an episode of intense fighting between 15-17 April".

It is impossible for now to determine who conducted the attacks, but Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Magdalena Mughrabi, warned that "deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian property, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians amount to war crimes".

"All sides have an absolute obligation under international law to protect civilian lives and to clearly distinguish between civilians and fighters during their attacks," she also stressed.

'Deteriorating humanitarian situation'

Health workers are also particularly impacted with at least four killed in the past six weeks. The UN OCHA strongly condemned an apparent direct attack on a clearly marked ambulance on May 8 in which two paramedics were injured. It left the director of Tripoli's Ambulance and Emergency Medical Services in a critical condition.

Overall, more than 510 people have died and more than 2,460 people have been injured since the LNA started its advance on Tripoli on April 4, according to to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation.

Furthermore, approximately 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. A further 100,000 remain trapped in immediate frontline areas while 400,000 more are in areas impacted by clashes, the UN estimates. The humanitarian situation is also deteriorating with frequent power cuts being reported and a shortage of hospital medical supplies.

The international community has called on the warring sides to reach a ceasefire and work to find a political situation to the conflict which has been raging since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

But Haftar is reported as having told French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting in Paris on Wednesday that the conditions for a ceasefire haven't been met while GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj told Euronews that they "will continue defending our dreams, our capital, our homes and our people until the attack has been stopped and all the invading troops go back from where they came."

READ MORE: 'Macron is responsible' for Tripoli battle casualties, says militia commander