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Russian fighters flown out of western Libya after Haftar retreat |NationalTribune.com

Russian fighters in Libya were flown out a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from front lines at the capital, the town’s mayor said. The reported departure of the Russians on Sunday was another blow to the Libya National Army (LNA) of eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar and his foreign allies.…

Russian fighters flown out of western Libya after Haftar retreat |NationalTribune.com

Russian fighters in Libya were flown out a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from front lines at the capital, the town’s mayor said.
The reported departure of the Russians on Sunday was another blow to the Libya National Army (LNA) of eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar and his foreign allies.
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The Russian fighters allied to the LNA retreated with their heavy equipment from the capital to the airport of Bani Walid, a town some 150km (93 miles) southeast of Tripoli, said Salem Alaywan, Bani Walid’s mayor.
He told Reuters news agency the Russians were flown out of western Libya to Jufra, a remote central district and LNA stronghold.
“They [the Russians] were flown in three military planes to Jufra and their military vehicles were driven there,” he said.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied any foreigners were fighting with his force.
1,200 mercenaries
But the Russians’ presence has been widely documented by diplomats and journalists. Pictures purportedly showing Russians, some sitting on trucks, in Bani Walid were posted on social media.
According to a leaked United Nations report, Russian private military contractor Wagner Group deployed about 1,200 mercenaries to Libya to strengthen Haftar’s forces. They have been identified using equipment typically reserved for Russia’s armed forces.
UN monitors identified more than two dozen flights between Russia and eastern Libya from August 2018 to August 2019 by civilian aircraft “strongly linked to or owned by” Wagner Group or related companies.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said Haftar’s immediate gains in the assault on the capital a year ago have been attributed to the fighting prowess of the military contractors from the Wagner Group.
“We don’t know why they’re leaving at this crucial time because Haftar is losing on the ground. The withdrawal of the Russian [fighters] could have major consequences for Haftar’s forces,” he said.
‘Meaningful event’
The Tripoli government, known as the GNA, has with Turkish help made sudden strides, seizing a string of towns from the LNA, capturing the strategically important al-Watiya airbase, and destroying several Russian-made air defence systems.

“The withdrawal [of the Russians] from the greater Tripoli area is a very meaningful event because it deprives the LNA of its most effective, best-equipped foreign fighting forces on that key front,” said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute.
The GNA has deployed Syrian fighters allied to Turkey, while Haftar is also using Sudanese. The LNA still holds the town of Tarhouna south of Tripoli with the help of a local armed group.
Haftar’s forces, backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have been trying to capture the capital for 13 months, but suffered a string of defeats in recent weeks in fighting against Turkey-backed forces of the Tripoli government.
In the past two days, LNA forces have withdrawn from some positions in southern Tripoli in what they described as a humanitarian gesture. Forces allied to the internationally recognised government re-entered some of those areas.
Libya has been without central government control for nine years, and since 2014 it has been divided between two main rival governments in the east and the west. The conflict has turned into a proxy war between the foreign allies of the two sides.
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Libya: GNA fighters head for front as battle for Sirte looms |NationalTribune.com

Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the…

Libya: GNA fighters head for front as battle for Sirte looms |NationalTribune.com

Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte.
The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital, Tripoli, before the new front line solidified between Misrata and Sirte.
Backed by Turkey, the GNA has said it will recapture Sirte and an LNA airbase at Jufra.
But Egypt, which backs the LNA alongside the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, has threatened to send troops into Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte.
The United States has said Moscow has sent warplanes to Jufra via Syria to act in support of Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA. Moscow and the LNA both deny this.
The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising which led to the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
EU countries threaten sanctions
Meanwhile, leaders of France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday they were “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating an arms embargo in Libya.

The statement did not directly name any foreign actors funnelling arms to Libya but multiple powers have been sending fighters and weapons, fuelling a bloody proxy war that reflects wider geopolitical rifts and divisions in the Middle East and within NATO.
“We … urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council,” the statement said.
“We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said they, therefore, “look forward to the proposals the EU High Representative/Vice President will make to this end.”
Voicing “grave concerns” over the escalating military tensions in Libya, they urged “all Libyan parties and their foreign supporters for an immediate cessation of fighting and for a stop of the ongoing military build-up throughout the country”.
NOC urges foreign mercenaries to leave
Also on Saturday, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from oil facilities in the country.
In a statement, the NOC condemned the deployment of Russia’s Wagner Group and Syrian and Janjaweed mercenaries in Libyan oil installations, most recently at Es Sidra port.
The NOC demands their immediate withdrawal from all facilities, it said, calling the UN to send observers to supervise the demilitarisation in the areas of NOC operations across the country.
There are currently large numbers of foreign mercenaries in NOC facilities who do not share this wish, the statement said.
On Sunday, the NOC accused the UAE of instructing forces loyal to Haftar of disrupting the country’s oil output and exports.
Libya, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, can produce 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day. However, production has fallen below 100,000 barrels a day due to interruptions by pro-Haftar fighters over the past six months.

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Turkey-backed fighters recapture key town in Syria’s Idlib

Turkey-backed opposition fighters have recaptured a town in northwestern Syria after clashes with government-allied fighters. Turkish state media and a war monitor reported on Monday that rebels seized the town of Nairab, considered a gateway to the strategic town of Saraqeb, which lies close to a junction between two major highways. More: UN warns of…

Turkey-backed fighters recapture key town in Syria’s Idlib

Turkey-backed opposition fighters have recaptured a town in northwestern Syria after clashes with government-allied fighters.
Turkish state media and a war monitor reported on Monday that rebels seized the town of Nairab, considered a gateway to the strategic town of Saraqeb, which lies close to a junction between two major highways.
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The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes killed dozens of pro-government fighters and Syrian troops as well as opposition fighters on Monday.
“With the help of our Turkish friends, we have regained control of the strategic town of Nairab, the gateway of Saraqeb, after expelling the terrorist Russian militias,” Yusef Hamoud, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Army, told Reuters news agency.
Earlier on Monday, the Observatory reported that Russian air attacks killed five civilians in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in the south of Saraqeb.
Russia’s defence ministry denied the Observatory report.
Syrian state news agency SANA said “units of the Syrian army continued to progress in the south of Idlib” province after seizing 10 towns and villages south of the M4 highway.

Turkey-backed opposition fighters cover their artillery gun in the town of Sarmin [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Tough battle expected
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the government’s aim was to wrest back control of stretches of the M4, which links the cities of Aleppo and Latakia.
That would require operations against the towns of Ariha and Jisr al-Shughour, both along the M4.
Analysts expect a tough battle for Jisr al-Shughour, held by the Turkistan Islamic Party whose fighters mainly hail from China’s Uighur Muslim minority.

They are allied to Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a group that dominates the Idlib region.
Last April, Syrian government and allied forces launched a military offensive to capture rebel-held areas in western Aleppo and Idlib provinces. A number of ceasefires failed to hold in the summer and Damascus relaunched its offensive in December.
Since December, fighting in northwestern Syria has forced about 900,000 people to flee their homes and shelter near the Turkish border.
The United Nations said on Monday that the latest fighting was coming “dangerously close” to the displaced people’s encampments, risking an imminent “bloodbath”.
Mark Cutts, a UN humanitarian coordinator, told reporters in Geneva that the world body was trying to double aid deliveries across a border crossing with Turkey, from 50 to 100 trucks a day.
Turkey has already taken in 3.6 million Syrian refugees and has said it is unwilling to open its borders to a new influx from Idlib.
Fearing a fresh refugee crisis, Turkey has poured thousands of troops into Idlib in the last few weeks and President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to use military force to drive back Syrian forces unless they pull back by the end of the month.
“[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is aware of the strong resentment in Turkey against Syrian refugees,” Haid Haid, a researcher at Chatham House, told AFP news agency.
“That’s why it has been framing its military activities in Idlib as a means to prevent more refugees from crossing,” he said.
“The [political] cost will likely be high for him if he loses many soldiers in Syria and still fails to stop refugees from crossing to Turkey. But he might be able to gain from the crisis if the outcome of his intervention is positive.”
This month, as many as 16 Turkish military personnel have been killed by Syrian forces in northwestern Syria and several Turkish military observation posts – which Ankara thought were safe under deals with Russia, a key Damascus ally – ended up being surrounded in areas retaken by government forces.

No agreement on summit
Erdogan said a Russian delegation would arrive in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Idlib.
“We try to determine our road map by negotiating with Russia at the highest level,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Erdogan also said he might meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on March 5 at a proposed summit with France and Germany but that “there is no full agreement yet between [French President Emmanuel] Macron, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and Putin”.
Macron and Merkel have urged Putin to end the conflict, concerned about the humanitarian situation.
A Turkish offensive against Syrian government forces “is still a possibility” if political negotiations between Ankara and Moscow prove fruitless, Haid said.
“Allowing Assad to capture Idlib will not only hurt Erdogan domestically, it will likely damage Turkey’s reputation and its ability to project power.”
For Haid, such a confrontation would not necessarily spell the end of the Turkish-Russian alliance given the burgeoning ties between the two countries in recent years especially in the fields of energy and defence.
“The current alliance between Turkey and Russia is broader than Syria,” he said.
“That is why neither of them is willing, at least for now, to destroy it. Idlib is important for Turkey but it is still not considered a deal-breaker.”
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