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Wednesday, 8th July 2020
1:25:03pm

North Africa

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Egypt said it registered 1,218 new cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, edging the total number of cases up to more than 50,000 a fortnight before it is set to further ease restrictions.

The Arab world’s most populous nation closed itself off in March to curb the spread of the disease, shutting schools, restaurants and halting almost all international flights. 

The pandemic shuttered Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which the government says accounts for 5% of economic output, but analysts say it may account for as much as 15% if jobs and investment indirectly related to the industry are included.

The country hopes to be able to welcome tourists back for the summer season and has said it plans to reopen its airports to scheduled international flights from July 1. 

The health ministry on Thursday said it registered a total of 50,437 cases of the coronavirus and 1,938 deaths. The country’s higher education minister cited a study on June 1 estimating that the actual number of cases could be up to five times higher than the figure reported.

Health officials at the beginning of the pandemic had urged citizens to report even mildly symptomatic cases, which would then be taken to designated isolation hospitals across the country.

As the infections continued to steadily rise, however, the health ministry began offering prescriptions that can be delivered to sick individuals’ homes.

-Reuters   

Bodies of children were among those found in the Libyan town of Tarhouna after eastern-based forces and their local allies withdrew this month, Red Crescent and Tripoli government officials said on Tuesday.

The evidence of what rights groups have called possible war crimes came as Libya’s frontlines suddenly shifted, displacing thousands of civilians and leaving a trail of landmines hidden in residential areas.

The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) retook Tarhouna, southeast of Tripoli, on June 5 as an offensive by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to capture the capital collapsed.

GNA forces found 106 bodies in the hospital and local people discovered eight mass graves around Tarhouna, prompting the United Nations to call for an urgent and open investigation.

Libyan Red Crescent representative Faisal Jalwal told a news conference that 29 of the bodies found in the hospital had been identified and that they included women and children. 

Kamal Al-Siwi, head of the GNA’s missing persons bureau, said about 10 bodies had been disinterred from one of the eight mass graves that had been found.

Tarhouna had for years been controlled by the local Kani family and its armed group, popularly known as the Kaniyat, which had been loyal to different sides during Libya’s chaotic civil war.

The town served as an important stronghold for the LNA during its attack on Tripoli and the Kaniyat fought alongside the LNA in the southern suburbs of the capital.

A GNA justice ministry official, Nasser Ghaita, said it had issued 23 arrest warrants over the case and asked for U.N. technical help. The GNA said on Saturday that “entire families” had been killed.

The LNA has denied its forces were responsible for any of the bodies found in the mass graves and has called for the United Nations to investigate reports of violations committed by pro-GNA forces in Tarhouna.

-Reuters

The death toll from a ship packed with African migrants that sank off the Tunisian coast this week has risen to 46 after Tunisia recovered more bodies on Thursday, a civil protection official told Reuters.

On Tuesday 20 bodies were found off the coast of Sfax on Tuesday. A total of 53 people had set out on the boat at the weekend aiming to reach Italy.

-Reuters

Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for both sides in the Libyan civil war to seek peace, urging the international community to facilitate talks and protect refugees and migrants he said were victims of cruelty.

In an impassioned plea during his noon address in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was pained by the situation in Libya, which has had no stable central authority since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO-backed rebels in 2011.

For more than five years Libya has had rival parliaments and governments in the east and the west, with streets controlled by armed groups and sporadic fighting. 

“Please! I urge international bodies and those who have political and military responsibilities to restart, with conviction and resolve, the search for a path towards an end to violence, leading to peace, stability and unity in the country,” he said.

Egypt announced a new initiative for Libya on Saturday. Meanwhile Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in Libya, have postponed ministerial-level talks on the conflict.

Libya is divided between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) with nations split over their support of the LNA or the GNA. 

In an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Francis said the already precarious health conditions of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers had been aggravated, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

“There is cruelty. I call on the international community - Please! - to take their plight to heart ... Brothers and sisters, we all have responsibility in this. No-one can consider themselves dispensed from this,” he said.

Human rights groups such as Doctors Without Borders have said people in migrant detention centres in Libya are being held in harmful conditions and exposed to abuses.

-Reuters

Libya’s internationally recognised government regained control of Tripoli on Thursday, driving eastern forces out of the capital after a year-long battle in which foreign powers poured in arms and fighters.

A military source with the eastern forces, whose base is in the eastern city of Benghazi, said they were pulling back from all of Tripoli’s suburbs. Government forces said they now held everything within the city boundary.

It represents a stinging reversal for eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), which launched an offensive on Tripoli last year pledging to unite Libya after years of chaos.

Continued Russian, Egyptian and United Arab Emirates support for the LNA means the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and backed by Turkey, has little hope of carrying the war into eastern Libya for now.

But, with eastern forces withdrawing towards their northwestern stronghold of Tarhouna, the lines are being drawn for battles to come although both sides have agreed to resume U.N.-brokered ceasefire talks.

The arrival of heavier weapons, which the United States says include a fleet of Russian warplanes, means a new escalation could lead to deadlier fighting than at any time since the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Last week France, which has been largely supportive of Haftar, said the conflict risked replicating the scenario of Syria, where Turkish and Russian rivalry bolstered both sides in an attritional war of bombardment and air strikes.

The main outside powers engaged in the conflict have welcomed the decision to resume ceasefire talks and publicly say they support a political resolution, but it is unclear if they could agree on a settlement.

It leaves Libya still partitioned between rival administrations in Tripoli and Benghazi in the east. 

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj will meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara, where a senior Turkish official said the GNA advances were critical before any potential peace talks.

“Everyone wants to sit at the table without losing territory, but the territory you hold strengthens your positions at the table,” the official said, adding Erdogan and Serraj would discuss both strategy and the situation on the ground.

The United Nations is responsible for convening talks, but its Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, resigned in March and the Security Council has yet to agree on a permanent replacement.

INTENSE BOMBARDMENT

Both sides in Libya are made up of unstable coalitions of sometimes rival factions. It is unclear how the failure of the Tripoli offensive could affect the position of Haftar, who went to Cairo on Wednesday for meetings with Egypt’s deputy defence minister.

Analysts say there are few other candidates capable of holding together the different forces in the LNA.

Its sudden reversals follow direct intervention by Turkey since late last year with drones that have targeted LNA supply lines and defences that neutralised much eastern air power.

In the past month, the GNA has also retaken a string of towns near the border with Tunisia and the strategic al-Watiya airbase southwest of the capital.

Fighting in the southern suburbs has for months involved intense bombardment of civilian areas held by the GNA, including rocket attacks on hospitals. 

A GNA military spokesman said the recent advances meant Tripoli would now be out of range of LNA shelling.

But as the GNA moved southwards through the city over the past week, it said its fighters encountered many explosive booby traps hidden in houses. Civilians in LNA-held Tarhouna now face the prospect of coming under more intense bombardment.

-Reuters   

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