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18 bodies found from downed Libya helicopter

libya mapThe death toll from the downing over the Mediterranean of a helicopter belonging to Libya’s Tripoli-based government has risen to 18, a naval officer said Wednesday.

Lieutenant Rabii Mohamad said 13 bodies were retrieved after the aircraft was shot down Tuesday near Al-Maya, west of the capital, and five more Wednesday morning.

“Today we will focus on trying to pull out the wreck of the aircraft but we don’t know if there are other bodies because the number of passengers is not clear,” Mohamad told AFP.

Colonel Mustafa Sharkasi, from Tripoli’s air force, said Tuesday 16 people were on board and at least nine killed, including Colonel Hussein Abu Diyya of the Fajr Libya militia that controls the capital.

Sharkasi blamed the internationally — which denied any involvement — and vowed retaliation.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility.

Libya descended into chaos after the October 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The two governments are vying for power, and armed groups are battling for control of its vast energy resources.

Shortly after the crash of the helicopter was announced, clashes erupted with gunfire heard along the road linking Tripoli to Al-Maya, an AFP cameraman said.

“Unidentified gunfire hit everything that moved,” he said.

Gunmen also opened fire from the coast at rescue boats trying to reach the crash scene, the source added.

The Tripoli parliament, meanwhile, declared a “maximum state of alert” covering an area just west of the capital to the outskirts of the city of Zawiya, 45 kilometres (28 miles) away.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which has been struggling to persuade Libya’s rival factions to agree a deal to end more than four years of unrest, has deplored the loss of life.

“The mission regrets the loss of life and calls on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that would further escalate tensions,” it said.

UNSMIL urged an investigation and called on “the local leaders and those with influence on the ground to immediately work to prevent an escalation of tensions”.



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