Haftar’s forces ‘set to push into capital Tripoli’

Head of eastern parliament says LNA forces will press offensive on Libyan capital as Sisi meets with Haftar in Cairo.

Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
The battle around Tripoli has killed 75 people, including 17 civilians, according to the UN [File: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]

Forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar are set to move in on Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Sunday, the head of the country’s self-proclaimed eastern parliament said.

Haftar announced an attack against Tripoli on April 4 to capture the capital and the entire west of Libya from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. 

“We need to get rid of militias and terrorist groups,” Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives allied to Haftar, said on Saturday, using a reference eastern officials often make to describe forces allied to the Tripoli government. 

Meanwhile, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Haftar in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the latest developments, el-Sisi’s spokesperson said. No other details about the meeting were immediately available.

El-Sisi has been an ardent supporter of Haftar’s forces, which control swaths of eastern Libya.

On Saturday, an air raid by Haftar’s forces hit the yard of a school on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, where Haftar’s forces have been confronted by forces allied to al-Sarraj’s internationally recognised government.

In a possible new front, the eastern Libya National Army (LNA) was readying a unit to move to the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports, Libya’s biggest, on the eastern coast, anticipating an attack from an armed group allied to al-Sarraj, eastern military officials said.

“The force will strengthen the protection of the ports,” one official said, asking not to be named.  

For its part, the Tripoli government will agree to a ceasefire only if the LNA troops return to the east, government spokesperson Mohanad Younes told reporters.

Ongoing air raids

Forces loyal to al-Sarraj’s government have so far kept the eastern offensive at bay. Fierce fighting has broken out around a disused airport about 11km from the centre of Tripoli.

An eastern military source said a warplane belonging to the LNA had fired at a military camp in an eastern suburb of the city.

In a separate raid, the yard of a primary school was hit, a Reuters news agency reporter at the scene said. An LNA official said the plane had targeted a camp of al-Sarraj’s forces.

Saleh also said the United Nations mission to Libya and al-Sarraj’s government had been controlled by armed groups and had failed to expel them from the capital, and promised Libya would hold long-delayed elections after the Tripoli operation ends.

The LNA’s push into Tripoli is the latest outbreak in a cycle of conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. It has continued despite international calls for a halt in an offensive that risks causing many civilian casualties.

Last week, the European Union called on the LNA to stop its attacks, having agreed on a statement after France and Italy sparred over how to handle the conflict.

Haftar’s offensive had surprised the UN, which had been planning to hold a national conference on April 14 to prepare Libya for elections.

The latest battle had, by Friday, killed 75 people, mainly fighters but including 17 civilians, and wounded another 323, according to UN tallies. About 13,000 people have been forced out of their homes.

As well as the humanitarian cost, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, scupper a UN peace plan, and allow armed groups to exploit the chaos.

Haftar, 75, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies