Libya's Haftar announces 'decisive battle' to capture Tripoli

Commander of self-styled Libyan National Army says 'zero hour has come for broad, total assault' to take over capital.

    Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, says the Tripoli-based GNA is backed by 'terrorist' groups [File: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]
    Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, says the Tripoli-based GNA is backed by 'terrorist' groups [File: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]

    Libya's renegade General Khalifa Haftar has announced that a "decisive battle" to capture the capital, Tripoli, will commence imminently, eight months after he launched his offensive to wrest it from the internationally recognised government. 

    "Zero hour has come for the broad and total assault expected by every free and honest Libyan," Haftar said in a televised address on Thursday.

    "Today, we announce the decisive battle and the advancement towards the heart of the capital to set it free ... advance now our heroes." 

    Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

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    In the chaos that followed, the country was divided with a weak UN-supported administration in Tripoli, overseeing the country's west, dubbed the Government of National Accord (GNA), and a rival government in the east aligned with Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

    Haftar says the GNA is backed by "terrorist" groups.

    The GNA said on Thursday that the situation was "under control" and that its troops were holding their positions in the capital's south.

    "We are ready to push back any more mad attempt by the Haftar putsch leader," said GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha on al-Ahrar television.

    Haftar had foreseen a quick victory, but despite promising in July that success was "imminent", his forces have remained bogged down on the outskirts of the capital.

    At least 200 civilians and more than 2,000 fighters have been killed since the start of Haftar's assault on Tripoli, according to the United Nations. The fighting has also displaced some 146,000 people.

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    SOURCE: News agencies