By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – East Libya-based forces said they had carried out air strikes on the port city of Misrata in the early hours of Tuesday, targeting armoured vehicles delivered from Turkey and a munitions depot.
The strikes came hours after a deadly air strike on a biscuit factory in the capital Tripoli, 190 kms (118 miles) to the west, that the United Nations envoy to Libya said could constitute a war crime.
They mark a new escalation in the conflict around Tripoli, where forces loyal to east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar have been on the offensive since early April.
The attempt by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to take Tripoli quickly stalled, and both sides have used drones and fighter jets to carry out air strikes amid sporadic fighting.
Forces from Misrata have led the defence of Tripoli, home to Libya’s internationally recognised government. Misrata is the second largest city in western Libya and a major source of opposition to Haftar.
Residents said the strikes there were unusually powerful and followed by repeated explosions. Pictures posted on social media showed a large ball of fire over surrounding houses.
Libya has been divided between rival political and military camps based in Tripoli and the east since 2014. In recent months the conflict has become increasingly internationalised.
Haftar has received backing from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The Tripoli government has been backed by Turkey.
The LNA said its strike in Misrata targeted vehicles delivered from Turkey that arrived in Misrata’s port on Monday, as well as weapons and munitions.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said it had no information on the matter. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told parliament on Monday that Turkey supported international efforts to bring peace to Libya.
“We see the establishment of a lasting ceasefire in Libya and the continuation of efforts for a political resolution under the U.N.‘s auspices as a topic of priority,” he said.
East Libyan officials had also warned of escalation after saying on Sunday that Misrata had seized a Libyan Airlines passenger jet that operates from the eastern city of Benghazi.
Misrata is home to the only functioning civilian airport in western Libya. Tripoli’s Mitiga airport was shut following air strikes and shelling.
The strike on the biscuit factory in Tripoli was part of an escalating air campaign, and killed at least 10 workers and wounded 35, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council in New York on Monday.
Two of those killed were Libyan and the rest appeared to be migrant workers, according to local emergency services.
An official at Bangladesh’s embassy in Tripoli said one of its nationals had been killed and 15 wounded, and that hundreds of workers were inside the factory when it was hit.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)