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Increasing artillery barrage on Libyan capital outskirts: UN

Libyan protesters attend a demonstration to demand an end to the Khalifa Haftar's offensive against Tripoli, in Martyrs Square in central Tripoli, Libya April 12, 2019. (Xinhua/REUTERS)

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 (Xinhua) -- An increasing artillery barrage on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya has forced nearly 10,000 people to flee their homes and seven civilians have been killed since the siege began last week, a UN spokesman said on Friday.

"What is clear is that those who have their fingers on the trigger need to stop the shooting," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"There's been no letup in the fighting," Dujarric said. "There's, in fact, been increased use of heavy artillery which one can only imagine the devastating impact it can have, especially in urban areas."

Beginning last week, rebel Gen. Khalifa Haftar led the Libyan National Army (LNA) into an assault on the capital city region.

"We are continuing to closely monitor developments on the ground ... in the outskirts of Tripoli," Dujarric said. "We are concerned about the impact of these clashes on already difficult living conditions of ordinary Libyans."

"Almost 10,000 people have now fled their homes in areas affected," the spokesman said, adding that evacuation teams had received requests to move out about 3,800 people to safer areas, but only 550 people were able to be evacuated due to access restrictions.

He said UN health partners have verified 17 civilian casualties, with seven fatalities, including three medical staff. At least five ambulances were hit.

"We've seen the targeting or at least the hitting of medical personnel, of ambulances, which is completely unacceptable," Dujarric told reporters at a regular briefing. "We continue to be on the ground in touch with the parties and continue to plea for at least humanitarian pause so people can flee safely and aid can come in."

The secretary-general's special representative in Libya, Ghassan Salame, and his team continue to work in Tripoli.

"They are having intensive outreach to national and international actors to seek to urgently de-escalate the situation," the spokesman said. "The special representative and his team also met today with mayors from conflict-affected areas to discuss humanitarian situation, including ways in which the UN can assist civilians trapped in those areas."

"What is essential for us, but also all those countries that may have influence over the parties, is to push them to a humanitarian pause and further along, push them toward a political agreement," Dujarric said.

The fighting also is impacting the economic situation with "increasing cash withdrawals from banks and the hoarding of goods anticipated to exacerbate liquidity shortages and high commodity prices," he said.

"We continue to call for humanitarian pause to allow people to safely evacuate and emergency services to get through and for all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law," the spokesman said. "Medical facilities, medical personnel and medical transport must be respected and protected at all times."

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