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Libya: Clashes rage near Tripoli

April 8, 2019

At least 35 people have been killed since a Libyan general launched a campaign to capture Tripoli. A United Nations attempt to secure a temporary cessation of hostilities came to no avail.

Libyan National Army soldier (LNA)
Image: Reuters/E.O. Al-Fetori

Intense fighting between pro-government troops and militias loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar continued Monday despite attempts by the United Nations to secure a temporary ceasefire.

Haftar's forces launched a military offensive to capture the Libyan capital of Tripoli last week, threatening to send the conflict-ridden country into further chaos.

The latest:

  • On Monday, the UN said an airstrike by Haftar's forces hit Tripoli's only functional airport for civilian use. Flights were suspended until further notice.

  • Reports of deaths very, but as of Monday, as many as 50 people are believed to have died in clashes between government loyalists and pro-Haftar forces.

  • The UN says some 3,400 people have been displaced by the fighting, and many are cut off from emergency help.
  • The UN had called for a two-hour truce on Sunday to allow civilians and those wounded in clashes to flee.
  • The US military has temporarily withdrawn its troops "in response to security conditions on the ground."

Read more: Libya: US pulls forces amid fighting near capital

French President Emmanuel Macron (center), Fayez al-Sarraj (left) and Khalifa Haftar
Haftar (right) has been an influential actor in international negotiations concerning LibyaImage: picture-alliance/C. Liewig

Haftar's offensive 'endangering civilians'

Ahmed Mismari, a spokesman for Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), described a new facet to the clashes, saying: "Air forces took part for the first time in the military operations. It conducted a very successful operation to secure the airport road (to the city center)."

Colonel Mohamed Gnounou, a spokesman for pro-government forces, said its counteroffensive against Haftar aimed at "purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces."

Read more: Can the EU and partners stabilize Libya?

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on leaders to avoid further military escalation and urged a "return to the political process." She added that developments in Libya were "definitely not going in the right direction."

Peter Millet, the UK's former ambassador to Libya, told DW international involvement should refrain from escalating the situation, saying: "I don't think the international community can, could or should intervene militarily in Libya."

Country in chaos: Libya plunged into chaos in 2011 after dictator Moammar Gadhafi launched a brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters. NATO-backed rebels eventually defeated the regime and captured Gadhafi, who was killed in captivity. Since then, warring factions have attempted to claim power in the North African country.

Read more: Libya: The road from revolution to civil war

Why is Haftar fighting the government?

Under a UN-backed deal last year, the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj, Haftar and some warring militias agreed to a transition deal that included holding national elections by the end of 2019.

But Haftar became frustrated with the Tripoli government's inability to govern effectively. Last week, Haftar ordered his forces to seize control of the Libyan capital.

The UN-backed government accused Haftar of betraying the transition deal.

Read more: World powers demand end to Libya military campaign

LNA Chief Khalifa Haftar
Former Gadhafi ally Khalifa Haftar, 75, held a senior post in the forces which overthrew the dictator in 2011Image: picture-alliance/ Balkis Press

Who is Khalifa Haftar? Haftar is a former military officer who helped Gadhafi during a military-led coup in 1969. However, he later fell out of favor with the dictator. He enjoys widespread support in eastern Libya from several armed militias filled with battle-hardened fighters who made their names during the 2011 civil conflict.

Read more: Khalifa Haftar: Libya's military strongman

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ls,tj/ng (AFP, Reuters)