Eastern-based forces allied with Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar have slowed down an advance by the country’s internationally recognised government into the strategic city of Sirte, military officials told Al Jazeera.
The Government of National Accord’s (GNA) campaign into central Libya follows the recent capture of the last major stronghold of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tarhuna, where multiple mass grave sites were found southeast of the capital, Tripoli, on Wednesday.
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Bolstered by recent battlefield gains and a withdrawal by the LNA from around Tripoli, the GNA’s military launched the operation dubbed Paths to Victory to take Sirte and al-Jufra on Saturday.
“We will enter Sirte. This isn’t a battle for cities like Tripoli or Sirte. It is a fight for Libya, for freedom and democracy,” Abdelmenaam al-Draa, a military spokesman, told Al Jazeera. “We will continue east until we liberate all of Libya from the war criminal Haftar.”
Video reportedly shows UAE’s involvement in Libya
Supported by Turkey, the GNA’s forces gained the upper hand last week after retaking Tripoli airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city, and a string of key towns, forcing Haftar’s fighters to withdraw – defeats their command painted as a tactical measure to give the UN-backed peace process a chance.
GNA military sources, speaking anonymously due to the confidentiality of the information, told Al Jazeera they received air defence systems from Turkey and were working on building up air capabilities in central Libya.
Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Abu Grein outside Sirte, said for the moment the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt, enjoys air superiority but that is expected to change soon.
“It appears the LNA have been able to slow the GNA’s advance into Sirte because, at the moment, they enjoy the upper hand in air power in central Libya,” he quoted military sources on the ground as saying.
Multiple mass graves
Meanwhile, multiple mass graves have been discovered in Tarhuna and other areas recently retaken from Haftar’s forces.
The Libyan National Commission for the Identification of Missing Persons announced the discovery of 15 bodies out of a hundred reported in Tarhuna, 65km (40 miles) south of Tripoli.
The GNA said the graves contain the remains of imprisoned government soldiers.
The exact number of bodies has not been made public but officials said the bodies are badly decomposed and cannot be identified.
“So far, two bodies have been exhumed. The region is full of corpses,” Lutfi Tevfik Misrati, head of an office investigating disappeared people in the country, told Anadolu news agency.
“We think that there are 10 to 12 bodies in another grave in the field. Graves were found at five or more different points,” Misrati said.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in turmoil since 2011 when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising.
On Wednesday, the United Nations said the two warring sides were “fully” engaged in military talks aimed at ending the fighting in the country, calling the separate virtual meetings “productive”.
The latest round of talks came after the collapse of a 14-month offensive by the LNA to capture Tripoli and its retreat from most of its territory in northwest Libya following a series of military setbacks.
A unilateral ceasefire offer over the weekend by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was rejected by the GNA and Turkey.
“The call for ceasefire or the joint declaration, to us, is stillborn. It’s not realistic, it’s not sincere,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV on Thursday.
He criticised the countries backing Haftar and said that without their support, the strongman was “zero”, adding that Turkey would support “a binding ceasefire under the auspices of the UN”.
‘Where were they?’
Ahmed al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said they would continue operations until the ceasefire offer was accepted by the GNA.
“Although the international community is increasing their pressure on the GNA to begin peace talks, fighters on the ground, military and political officials say they will carry on their advances,” Al Jazeera’s Traina said.
“They feel let down by the international community for allowing Haftar to continue his campaign for over a year.”
Abdelhamid Abuzayan, a field commander for the GNA forces, told Al Jazeera: “Where were they when Haftar was shelling our families in Tripoli? When our men were dying defending their land?
“Haftar came from 1,000km away, they could have stopped him. Now when we start to have the upper hand they want peace? No, we will continue until we liberate all of Libya from the war criminal, Haftar.”
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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