Libya on brink of civil war as anti-government troops surround capital and ‘gun battles’ break out

Khalifa Hiftar attends a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi in May last year

Khalifa Hiftar attends a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi in May last year

Khalifa Hiftar attends a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi in May last year

Violence has erupted in northwestern Libya as the rebel army commander Khalifa Hifter ordered his troops to march on Tripoli.

The U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutteres was left dismayed on Friday night as Hifter rejected his calls for peace and surrounded the capital of the oil-rich north African state.

On Saturday morning exchanges of fire were reported on roads south of the coastal city as the self-styled Libyan National Army pushed north into the suburbs. 

Hifter’s army – based in the east – had pushed westward to circle the territory controlled by U.N.-backed Presidential Council and Government of National Accord (GNA) and supporting militias.

A well-informed U.N. diplomat said late Friday that Hifter’s forces were reported to be on the outskirts of Tripoli, around 20 miles out, with gunfire close to Tripoli International Airport.

On Saturday the rebel army were said to have made their way into the suburbs just 10 miles from city centre, according to Sky News Arabia.

Local media reported that pro-GNA militias in the Ain Zara suburb were laying down arms and surrendering to the LNA. 

The Ministry of Health has declared a state of emergency across all Tripoli hospitals, according to the Libyan Observer, as locals report skirmishes on the outskirts of the city.

The GNA has reportedly carried out airstrikes on LNA positions to the south of the city and declared a no fly zone, saying it will shoot down any rogue aircraft on sight. 

A military vehicle of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, is seen on the road of Wadi al Rabih south of Tripoli, Libya on Friday

A military vehicle of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, is seen on the road of Wadi al Rabih south of Tripoli, Libya on Friday

A military vehicle of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli’s forces, is seen on the road of Wadi al Rabih south of Tripoli, Libya on Friday

This grab obtained from a video published on the Libyan National Army's propaganda page on Friday purported to show troops moving on highways towards the capital

This grab obtained from a video published on the Libyan National Army's propaganda page on Friday purported to show troops moving on highways towards the capital

This grab obtained from a video published on the Libyan National Army’s propaganda page on Friday purported to show troops moving on highways towards the capital

Video purportedly shows heavy clashes in Ain Zara in Tripoli with a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back of a truck unloading rounds down the highway

Video purportedly shows heavy clashes in Ain Zara in Tripoli with a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back of a truck unloading rounds down the highway

Video purportedly shows heavy clashes in Ain Zara in Tripoli with a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back of a truck unloading rounds down the highway

Men of the LNA pose in celebration after reportedly entering the city of Surman on the northwestern coast, around 40 miles from the capital

Men of the LNA pose in celebration after reportedly entering the city of Surman on the northwestern coast, around 40 miles from the capital

Men of the LNA pose in celebration after reportedly entering the city of Surman on the northwestern coast, around 40 miles from the capital

Hifter ordered his forces to march on the capital, saying in an audio recording posted online: ‘We are coming Tripoli, we are coming.’

He also urged his forces to enter the city peacefully and only raise their weapons ‘in the face of those who seek injustice and prefer confrontation and fighting.’

Russia has spoken of their deep concern with the escalation after denying support for the Libyan general when questions were raised over Moscow’s intentions in north Africa on Friday. 

The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he hoped the crisis would not lead to ‘renewed bloodshed’, adding that Moscow did not support Hiftar.

Asked if Russia considered supporting Libya militarily, Peskov said: ‘No, Moscow is not taking part in this in any way.’ 

Militias from the western cities of Zawiya and Misrata, which control Tripoli, said they had mobilized to confront Hifter on Friday.

‘We are the revolutionaries and the elders … we declare we are in full mobilization and war,’ they said in a video statement posted online.

A group of allied militias called the Joint Tripoli Protection Force based in the area around the Libyan capital announced they would also deploy to repel Hifter’s offensive.

Over 100 of Hifter’s soldiers were captured by Zawiya militias, said army spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari. He said the soldiers’ commander was being investigated.

LNA video showed heavily armoured vehicles including tanks and trucks mounted with high calibre machine guns purportedly rolling toward Tripoli in video posted on Friday

LNA video showed heavily armoured vehicles including tanks and trucks mounted with high calibre machine guns purportedly rolling toward Tripoli in video posted on Friday

LNA video showed heavily armoured vehicles including tanks and trucks mounted with high calibre machine guns purportedly rolling toward Tripoli in video posted on Friday

LNA trucks mounted with heavy machine guns were seen across the highway in a video posed to their Facebook page

LNA trucks mounted with heavy machine guns were seen across the highway in a video posed to their Facebook page

LNA trucks mounted with heavy machine guns were seen across the highway in a video posed to their Facebook page 

Libyan National Army Forces stand at ease in this propaganda footage taken from their Facebook page

Libyan National Army Forces stand at ease in this propaganda footage taken from their Facebook page

Libyan National Army Forces stand at ease in this propaganda footage taken from their Facebook page 

Men of the Libyan National Army march on roads south of Tripoli as their commander urged them to enter the city peacefully if possible

Men of the Libyan National Army march on roads south of Tripoli as their commander urged them to enter the city peacefully if possible

Men of the Libyan National Army march on roads south of Tripoli as their commander urged them to enter the city peacefully if possible

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres departs from Bengazi Airport, in Benghazi, Libya on Friday night after failed peace talks with Commander Khalifa Hifter

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres departs from Bengazi Airport, in Benghazi, Libya on Friday night after failed peace talks with Commander Khalifa Hifter

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres departs from Bengazi Airport, in Benghazi, Libya on Friday night after failed peace talks with Commander Khalifa Hifter

Anti-Hifter activists on social media posted pictures of what they described as militiamen from Zawiya capturing dozens of Hifter’s forces and armored vehicles carrying stickers reading ‘106th Battalion.’

The unit is known to be commanded by Hifter’s son, Khaled. It’s one of the largest units Hifter has deployed to march on Tripoli.

Also, Misrata militias launched an airstrike targeting Hifter’s position at the foot of the mountains of Nafusa, he said. He didn’t elaborate on the number of casualties.

In Tripoli, council member Mohammed al-Ammari spoke from the city center saying that Libya will not become a ‘hostage in hands of a military dictator once again.’

There were conflicting reports during the day as to how much and where exactly Hifter’s fighters were advancing in areas such as Souk al-Khamis.

Video stills showed a man waving to the LNA forces as they claimed they were heading towards the capital

Video stills showed a man waving to the LNA forces as they claimed they were heading towards the capital

Video stills showed a man waving to the LNA forces as they claimed they were heading towards the capital

Under the command of Khalifa Hifter the armed forces are reportedly in the suburbs of the capital on Saturday morning with small arms fire reported at the disused Tripoli International airport on Friday

Under the command of Khalifa Hifter the armed forces are reportedly in the suburbs of the capital on Saturday morning with small arms fire reported at the disused Tripoli International airport on Friday

Under the command of Khalifa Hifter the armed forces are reportedly in the suburbs of the capital on Saturday morning with small arms fire reported at the disused Tripoli International airport on Friday

Footage captured on the LNA's propaganda page showed hundreds of men travelling in convoys on highways towards Tripoli

Footage captured on the LNA's propaganda page showed hundreds of men travelling in convoys on highways towards Tripoli

Footage captured on the LNA’s propaganda page showed hundreds of men travelling in convoys on highways towards Tripoli

Clashes erupted at night in the western district of Qasr Bani Ghashir, close to Tripoli International airport, which was destroyed in 2014 fighting. Former lawmaker Abdel-Raouf al-Manaei said the forces fighting under the umbrella of the Government of National Accord will not permit ‘a replica of el-Sissi military rule in Libya,’ in reference to the authoritarian Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is an army chief turned president.  

The renewed fighting came a day after U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrived for his first visit to Libya as U.N. chief.

On Friday, Guterres went to the eastern region, which is the seat of a rival administration and parliament that Hifter is aligned with.

Guterres met with Agila Saleh, head of the east-based parliament, according to spokesman Abdullah Ablahig.

Local militamen, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stand next to vehicles the group said they seized from Hiftar's forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli

Local militamen, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stand next to vehicles the group said they seized from Hiftar's forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli

Local militamen, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stand next to vehicles the group said they seized from Hiftar’s forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli

A local militaman, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stands on an armoured vehicle the group said they seized from Hiftar's forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya

A local militaman, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stands on an armoured vehicle the group said they seized from Hiftar's forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya

A local militaman, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Hiftar, stands on an armoured vehicle the group said they seized from Hiftar’s forces at one of their bases in the coastal town of Zawiya

‘I am leaving Libya with heavy heart and deep concern,’ he told reporters at the airport shortly after meeting with Hifter.

‘I still hope, if possible, to avoid armed confrontation around Tripoli,’ he said. ‘The United Nations remains available to facilitate any political solution.’

Since Gadhafi’s ouster, Libya has been split between rival governments in the east and the west and an array of militias fighting over power and oil fields. Hifter has recently seized much of southern Libya without fighting.

Several governments and organizations urged de-escalation, including those known to be Hifter’s key backers, such as France and the United Arab Emirates, without specifically mentioning the commander.

Libya since Gaddafi: How the country went from liberation to the brink of civil war

Libya has been mired in chaos since the ouster and killing of dictator Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, with two rival authorities and a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.

Strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces were pushed back Friday from a key checkpoint less than 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Tripoli, checking their lightning advance on the capital, seat of the country’s internationally recognised unity government.

Haftar supports a parallel administration based in the east.

Here is a timeline of the Mediterranean country’s descent into turmoil:

Former dictator Colonel Gaddafi was the Libyan leader from 1969 until 2011. During the Libyan civil war the government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed

Former dictator Colonel Gaddafi was the Libyan leader from 1969 until 2011. During the Libyan civil war the government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed

Former dictator Colonel Gaddafi was the Libyan leader from 1969 until 2011. During the Libyan civil war the government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed

Gaddafi killed

Triggered by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrations erupt in Libya in February 2011. A coalition led by Washington, Paris and London lends its backing to an armed revolt.

Gaddafi, in power for 42 years, flees the capital. He is captured and killed on October 20, 2011 during a battle for his hometown Sirte, east of Tripoli.

Three days later, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) declares Libya’s ‘total liberation’.

In August 2012 the NTC hands power to a transitional authority elected a month earlier – the General National Congress (GNC).

Embassies targeted

US ambassador Chris Stevens and three American staff are killed in a September 11, 2012 attack on their consulate in Libya’s second city Benghazi. An Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group is blamed.

A car bomb in April 2013 targets France’s embassy in Tripoli, wounding two French guards.

Most foreign delegations withdraw from the country.

Rival governments

Dissident army general Haftar launches an offensive in May 2014 against jihadist groups in Benghazi. He is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Several military officers from the east join his self-styled Libyan National Army.

As nationalists and Islamists vie for power, legislative elections are held in June and the GNC is replaced by a parliament dominated by anti-Islamists.

Islamist-led militias contest the results and group under the banner of ‘Fajr Libya’ (Libya Dawn). They storm Tripoli in August, installing their own ‘national salvation’ government and restoring the GNC.

The elected house, which has international recognition, takes refuge in the eastern city of Tobruk near the border with Egypt.

Thus the country finds itself with two governments and two parliaments.

After months of negotiations and international pressure, lawmakers from the rival parliaments sign an accord in December 2015 in Morocco to set up a UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

In March 2016, GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj arrives in Tripoli to set up the new government, but Haftar’s rival administration refuses to recognise its authority.

Peace talks, armed groups

In July 2017, Sarraj and Haftar meet for talks near Paris where they agree to a ceasefire and commit to elections the following year.

In May 2018, weeks after suicide attackers from the Islamic State group kill 14 people at Libya’s electoral commission, the two men meet again in the French capital and commit to holding parliamentary and presidential polls at the end of the year.

In June 2018, a militia attacks two northeastern oil sites under Haftar’s control through which oil is exported.

After days of fighting, Haftar’s forces announce they are back in ‘full control’ and have also seized the city of Derna from radical Islamists.

In January 2019 Haftar launches an offensive into oil-rich southern Libya, ostensibly aimed at wiping out ‘terrorists’ and criminal groups.

His forces seize the region’s capital Sebha and one of the country’s main oil fields without a fight.

Conferences

On February 28 the UN says Libya’s rivals have met and agreed to hold polls.

In March the UN says it will organise an all-party conference the next month to draw up a ‘road map’ for Libya, including setting dates for legislative and presidential elections.

Later in March the African Union says it will host a ‘reconciliation’ conference in July aimed at uniting Libya’s political rivals.

Advance on Tripoli

On Wednesday, Haftar’s forces announce they are gearing up to move on the west of the country including Tripoli.

A day later powerful armed groups from the western city of Misrata, loyal to the Tripoli government, vow to block the threatened advance.

UN chief Antonio Guterres expresses deep concern over the risk of a major flare-up in Libya.

Haftar orders his troops to advance on Tripoli, saying ‘the time has come’.

The strongman’s forces seize a key security barrier within 27 kilometres of the capital later that day without any fighting, General Abdessalem al-Hassi says.

But on Friday, a security source says militiamen from the nearby coastal town of Zawiya retake the base after ‘a short exchange of fire’. 

Link hienalouca.com

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