Wed, May 22, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Cut off by gunmen, water supply restored to millions in besieged capital of Libya

Reuters, BENGHAZI, Libya

Female cadets graduate from the police academy in Benghazi on May 2.

Photo: AP

Water supplies to the 2.5 million residents of Tripoli were restored two days after they were cut off by gunmen, officials said yesterday, allowing the besieged capital to escape shortages that could have caused a humanitarian crisis.

The UN had condemned the closure as a possible war crime. Libya’s internationally recognized government had accused forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar — who have been trying to capture Tripoli — of being behind the blockage.

Haftar’s forces denied that they were responsible for cutting off the water.

A commander in his Libyan National Army (LNA) said that they had sent reinforcements to secure the pipe.

“The crisis of halting water supplies has ended and flows have started,” said Great Man-Made River, operator a pipe network supplying ground water from the Sahara.

On Saturday, an armed group had stormed a pumping station about 400km south of Tripoli, forcing employees to turn off the pipes, the company said, without giving more details.

Supplies to city residents were not immediately halted because the water system holds two days of capacity.

The UN-backed government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj had blamed a group that also cut the water supplies in 2017, saying that its commander, Khalifa Ehnaish, belonged to Haftar’s forces.

The LNA denied that. Ehnaish could not be reached.

“Considering this was a closure of the valves in an LNA-controlled area, the complicity of Ehnaish with the LNA in orchestrating this cannot be discounted,” said Emad Badi, a non-resident academic with the Middle East Institute.

The LNA, based in the east of the country, has launched an assault to capture the capital.

Fighting in the battle for Tripoli has killed at least 510 people, forced 75,000 out of their homes, trapped thousands of migrants in detention centers and flattened some suburbs, the UN has said.

It has also forced the closure of schools, split families on different sides of the front line and brought power outages.

The conflict is one of the most serious flare-ups in years of chaos since the 2011 toppling of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and has sharpened Gulf divisions over Libya.

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