Haftar's forces step up air raids after loss of strategic city

Analysts say the escalation comes after the LNA lost control of its forward base in Gharyan, south of Tripoli.

    Libyan National Army says aerial bombardment will be stepped up because 'traditional means' had been exhausted [Yosri al-Jamal/Reuters]
    Libyan National Army says aerial bombardment will be stepped up because 'traditional means' had been exhausted [Yosri al-Jamal/Reuters]

    Forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar threatened a barrage of new air strikes on Libya's capital, a day after five soldiers were killed in air raids on Tripoli.

    Urging residents to stay away from what he called "confrontation areas", air force commander Mohamed Manfour of Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Monday aerial bombardment will be stepped up because "traditional means" to "liberate Tripoli" had been exhausted.

    Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said five fighters aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) were killed and eight others wounded in overnight raids in the capital's southern Salah al-Din neighbourhood. 

    "Military sources with the government in Tripoli said the fighter jet is most probably an F-16 and is either an Egyptian or Emirati aircraft," he said.

    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of Haftar's key backers and has in the past supplied the leader with military equipment, in violation of an international arms embargo on the North African country.

    On Saturday, GNA military officials said they seized US-made weapons packed in wooden crates marked "Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates".

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    Libyan media also aired footage that appeared to show markings indicating the US-made weapons were originally sold to the UAE in 2008.

    "We are also getting reports from the city of Gharyan that a fighter jet belonging to Haftar's forces targeted a military camp known as the Eight Brigade headquarters," Abdelwahed said.

    Haftar's troops have sought to make up for the loss of the strategic city of Gharyan, about 95km south of Tripoli, by launching attacks on different targets, including the capital's only functioning Mitiga airport, he added.  

    Rival governments

    Libya has had two rival governments for the last few years.

    The United Nations-recognised administration led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is based in Tripoli.

    Turkey supports the Sarraj government, as do most Western nations including Italy, which is worried the fighting near Tripoli will force more migrants to cross the Mediterranean.

    Claudia Gazzini, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Turkey's involvement was being presented by the GNA as legitimate support offered upon the request of Libya's internationally recognised government. 

    "The latest escalation of narratives and rhetoric against Turkey, lambasted by the commanders of the LNA ... comes in the wake of recent defeats suffered by LNA forces in and around Tripoli," Gazzini told Al Jazeera. 

    "So it's only natural that they are trying to deflate the tension of their recent setbacks in the Tripoli area, accusing Turkey of supporting what Haftar considers a government that fuels militia power and that doesn't want to succumb to LNA control."

    Haftar and his backers based in Libya's east say they are trying to free Tripoli from militias they accuse of destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

    Haftar's eastern administration, which is backed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, cut all ties with Turkey on Friday and threatened to target Turkish interests and nationals in the country. 

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    It later walked back that threat and released six Turkish citizens after Ankara vowed to retaliate with military action. 

    Haftar's critics accuse him of deepening the conflict between the factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African nation.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies