Residents of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, are living in the middle of a civil war during a global pandemic. Photo: screengrab from Google Maps.

Richmond council talks with Libyan official as country copes with coronavirus and war

Eric Everington
Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Residents of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, are living in the middle of a civil war during a global pandemic.

The Richmond World Affairs Council, a nonprofit that holds speaker forums to educate the public on international affairs, held a conference call this month with Mohammed Ali Abdallah, political adviser for U.S. affairs to the prime minister of Libya, to discuss the conflict.

In-person programs held monthly at the Jefferson Hotel are currently on pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the council has shifted to virtual events. 

In April 2019 Libyan military Commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an attack on Tripoli to overthrow the Government of National Accord, instigating a war that over the past year has killed more than 2,200 people, displaced over 200,000, and made oil-rich Libya the center of an international proxy. 

The battle for Tripoli has been intervened by Russia, Turkey and neighboring countries who have recently pushed for both sides to accept a cease-fire.

The Libyan National Army pledged to halt its advance on Tripoli March 21 amid pleas of cease-fire, but within minutes of the army announcing its agreement on Facebook, it attacked the densely populated neighborhood Bab Ben Ghashir, the New York Times reported. Two children were injured. 

Even after the United Nations pleaded with the groups for a “humanitarian pause” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, both sides seem to be taking advantage of the international focus on the pandemic to gain more territory.

Abdallah said on the call that the fate of Libyan citizens has been disregarded. 

 “It is a missed opportunity,” he said. “Haftar has actually accelerated his military campaign and he completely disregarded the situation and he’s continued to bring in fighters from different regions including virus hot spots.”

New York Times reporter Haley Willis tweeted that Tripoli residents all have the same fear: they’re told to stay home, but residential areas are still being shelled almost every day. 

“So we spoke with them about being caught between the virus and a civil war,” Willis wrote.“They feel there’s nowhere safe to run.”

Libya is now on a government-imposed lockdown that started Friday, April 17 and is set to last for 10 days, according to France24 news. Libyans will be allowed to move from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to buy their basic needs from small shops but will be quarantined to their homes outside of that timeframe. 

Former U.S. official Megan Doherty told Al Arabiya English that “it will be impossible to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Libya with medical facilities and staff caught in the war’s crossfire.”

As of April 23, Libya had reported 60 cases of coronavirus and two deaths. More than 800 tests have been performed, according to a United Nations report released April 21. 

“From a public awareness standpoint, we’ve been pretty lucky thus far that the number of cases have relatively few, but I think a lot of it is just that fact that we just don’t have the testing and not a lot of people are coming forward to do the testing,” Abdallah said. 

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in Libya without water and electricity as hospitals are being attacked.

“When I talk to my friends and family in Libya, the topic isn’t about the coronavirus like the rest of the world is talking about, the virus is not the first thing they talk about,” Abdallah said.“They’re like ‘Oh, today we had like 20 rockets fall on us, and I don’t know if my son is going to come back or not.’”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.