Renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar has called on Libyans to take up arms in response to a prospective military intervention from Turkey aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
The beleaguered Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under sustained attack since April by Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) supports a rival administration based in the east of the country.
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Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved the deployment of troops to Libya after it received a request for military support from Sarraj’s government, which is recognised by the international community.
“We accept the challenge and declare jihad and a call to arms,” said Haftar in a televised address on Friday.
He urged “all Libyans” to bear arms, “men and women, soldiers and civilians, to defend our land and our honour”.
He said it was no longer a question of liberating Tripoli from militias, but of “facing a coloniser”, accusing Ankara of wanting to “regain control of Libya”, a former province of the Ottoman Empire.
The GNA has sought Turkey’s support as it fends off an offensive by Haftar’s forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya in early 2019.
Meanwhile, on Friday Haftar’s forces said they had carried out air strikes in several places, including south of the city of Sirte and in Tripoli. Sirte lies in the centre of Libya’s coastline, on the dividing line between the warring factions.
An increase in air strikes and shelling in and around Tripoli has caused the deaths of at least 11 civilians since early December and shut down health facilities and schools, according to the UN mission in Libya.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from the Libyan capital, said more than a dozen rockets hit Tripoli on Friday.
“There is a state of panic in the city. People are angry especially those in the areas that were targeted by the rockets,” Abdelwahed said.
“According to the government 20 rockets landed in the city. The airport has been closed and schools suspended in the area that was targeted. It is not the first time this part of the city has been hit by rockets by Haftar’s forces,” he added.
Haftar’s Tripoli offensive quickly stalled in the outskirts of the city but led to increased international involvement in the conflict. Turkey has backed the GNA while Haftar has received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Russian military contractors have also been deployed with Haftar’s Libyan National Army for several months, diplomats and analysts say.
There were protests in several cities and towns in eastern Libya against the Turkish parliament’s decision.
In Benghazi, where about 3,000 people took to the streets, protesters said they had turned out to oppose a Turkish “invasion” of Libya.