Libya’s internationally recognised government said its troops have seized control of three strategic coastal cities located between the capital, Tripoli, and the Tunisian border after expelling forces loyal to eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar.
“Our forces took control of Surman and Sabratha and are pursuing [Haftar’s forces],” Mohammed Gnunu, spokesperson of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said in a statement on Monday.
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GNA-aligned forces later in the day retook the city of al-Ajaylat, located some 90km west of Tripoli.
Libya, a large oil producer, has been engulfed in chaos since 2011 when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising.
It is now split between two rival administrations: the Tripoli-based GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives allied to Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
In April 2019, Haftar launched a military campaign to wrest control of Tripoli but the offensive was largely stalled by forces loyal to the GNA.
On Facebook on Monday, GNA forces published images of Grad rocket launchers, 10 tanks and armoured vehicles they said they captured in the cities, which had been controlled by Salafist militias allied with Haftar.
Mohammad al-Gammoudi, a GNA commander on the ground, said Surman and Sabratha were seized after “six hours of fighting with air cover”.
Conflict in Libya: Human cost mounts a year into Haftar offensive
While Sarraj also said his forces had taken the cities, Haftar’s forces did not immediately comment.
“Government forces say that by overtaking Sabratha and Surman, they can easily take control of all of the entire coast and the highway connecting Tripoli to the Tunisian border,” said Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli.
“GNA forces can also join Amazigh or Berber fighters in the city of Zuwara and can move on al-Watiya airbase, a strategic airbase and stronghold of Haftar southwest of the capital.”
Earlier on Monday, Colonel Muhammad Qanunu said the GNA’s air defences intercepted planes belonging to Haftar in the Abu Grain area and shot down the two Chinese-made Wing Loong aircraft and one Russian Mi-35 helicopter.
Sources told Al Jazeera the clashes killed nine soldiers from the GNA forces and more than 30 fighters loyal to Haftar, including a number of Sudanese and Chadian fighters.
The sources added GNA forces used drones provided by Turkey to launch raids on Haftar’s forces and the LNA.
“Military commanders say the latest advance by GNA forces can mainly be attributed to Turkish air support. Control of the skies has recently shifted in favour of the GNA thanks to the Turkish air force,” said Abdulwahed.
Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and others have fuelled fighting in the oil-rich but impoverished North African country.
The UN says hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since Haftar launched his battle for Tripoli.
Several UN-backed attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed and the UN has slammed repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo.
On March 17, the world body and nine countries called on Libya’s warring parties to cease hostilities to allow health authorities to fight against the new coronavirus.
Repeated UN efforts to mediate a ceasefire have not yielded a permanent result and have been on hold since envoy Ghassan Salame quit in early March, citing health reasons.
Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general, said the world governing body is concerned continued fighting will hamper the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“We, as you know, have been asking the parties to cease fighting… we need to make sure that they can set aside [their differences] and work together to allow us to deal with the pandemic.”
Libya: 2nd day of Misrata protests over corruption, poor services |NationalTribune.com
Misrata, Libya – Dozens of people have rallied in Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, for a second consecutive day to denounce corruption and deteriorating public services. The protest on Monday came a day after hundreds of people took to the streets of Misrata and more than 1,000 gathered in the capital, Tripoli, to voice their anger…
Misrata, Libya – Dozens of people have rallied in Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, for a second consecutive day to denounce corruption and deteriorating public services.
The protest on Monday came a day after hundreds of people took to the streets of Misrata and more than 1,000 gathered in the capital, Tripoli, to voice their anger over similar concerns.
“We’re here to protest against corruption … to fight for our rights and lack of government services,” said 32-year-old Amar Jamil, a demonstrator in Misrata. “We don’t have anything,” the father of two told Al Jazeera.
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of millions were spent by the government but people who are sick don’t have a place to be treated. People are dying because the money was stolen.”
The war-wracked North African country has so far reported more than 11,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 199 related deaths.
A major oil producer, Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The country has since been divided into two rival camps that are based in the country’s east and west – and that in recent years have been vying for power.
Sami Hamdi, editor of the International Interest, said the protests were an example of “an increasingly angry Libyan population” whose frustrations with worsening living conditions transcend the traditional divide of east and west.
“[It is] a dynamic that is outside the control of international powers,” he said.
The conflict escalated in April last year when eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar announced an offensive to wrest control of the capital from the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
Supported by Turkey, the GNA in early June succeeded in repelling Haftar, driving his self-styled Libyan National Army to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte – but not without incurring heavy losses.
On Friday, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj offered a ceasefire and called for the demilitarisation of Sirte, a central city that is located roughly halfway between Tripoli and Haftar’s bastion city of Benghazi and that is known as the gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals.
But protesters in Misrata, a main source of military power for the Tripoli-based GNA, said authorities could not make that call on their behalf.
“We want peace but the only people who should decide a ceasefire are the people on the front lines,” 35-year-old Abdelmemam al-Asheb said on Monday.
“Haftar is a war criminal. He can’t be part of any political solution. He is responsible for the oil closures, the thousands who died in Tripoli and all the people who are now displaced,” continued the father of two.
Abdelmemam al-Asheb, right, said Haftar cannot be part of the solution because he is responsible for the closure of the country’s oil terminals [Malik Traina/Al Jazeera]
‘We don’t trust Saleh’
Despite being on the back foot, Haftar, who is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia and has for months maintained a costly blockade on oil production and exports, turned down al-Sarraj’s ceasefire offer, arguing that the move was a stunt aimed at catching the LNA off-guard.
Analysts, however, say his rejection of the deal – a version of which he had accepted in June under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo – is informed by the dynamics in eastern Libya.
Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Haftar-allied House of Representatives in Tobruk and an influential figure with Libya’s eastern tribes, has seen his profile rise since the GNA’s recent military gains.
He has already expressed support for the ceasefire initiative, and observers say that had Haftar accepted al-Sarraj’s offer, it could be interpreted as following Saleh’s lead.
At the time of the el-Sisi initiative in June, Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the presence of Saleh in Cairo alongside the Egyptian president and Haftar was an indication of the diminishing patience of the renegade commander’s foreign backers.
“There’s no other figure that anyone can engage with in the east besides him [Saleh], so it’s the easiest way of having some form of tribal representatives of the eastern bloc but also a political one,” Badi had told Al Jazeera.
Back in the Misrata protest, however, 30-year-old Marwan Alamin said Saleh cannot be trusted.
“He may be the only one in eastern Libya who can actually come to a political solution but we don’t trust him,” said Alamin. “He supported Haftar’s war on Tripoli.”
Also on Monday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for “an immediate and thorough investigation into the excessive use of force” by pro-GNA security personnel in Tripoli during Sunday’s protest.
UNSMIL said in a statement that the security response “resulted in the injury of a number of protesters”, without specifying the number of people who were wounded.
Will Libya’s latest ceasefire bring peace? | Inside Story (25:00)
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’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.
Libya denounces Egypt’s ‘will not stand idle’ threats |NationalTribune.com
Libya has condemned the Egyptian president for recent comments suggesting Cairo “will not stand idle” against threats to national security and could arm Libyan tribes against the internationally recognised government. During a meeting in Cairo with tribal leaders from the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt “will not stand idle in…
Libya has condemned the Egyptian president for recent comments suggesting Cairo “will not stand idle” against threats to national security and could arm Libyan tribes against the internationally recognised government.
During a meeting in Cairo with tribal leaders from the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt “will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to the national security not only of Egypt but also that of Libya” and the region, according to a presidency statement.
In response, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticised the statement as “blatant interference in Libyan internal affairs”.
“El-Sisi’s talk is a repeat of his previous statements, which is a blatant interference in Libyan affairs,” Mohammed Al-Qablawi told Al Jazeera, adding that el-Sisi’s speech was “not aimed at peace as he said, but it is he who is fueling the [Libyan] conflict.”
The Egyptian president’s comments came days after the eastern-based Libyan parliament, aligned with renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, gave in-principle support to a threatened Egyptian military intervention in the country.
In June, el-Sisi suggested that Cairo could launch “external military missions” into Libya, saying “any direct intervention in Libya has already become legitimate internationally”.
He threatened to send in his army if GNA forces captured Sirte, located more than 800km (500 miles) from the Egyptian border.
The GNA, which has been pushing to take the strategic city from Haftar, denounced Sisi’s statements as a “declaration of war”.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, it has been split between rival factions based in Tripoli and in the east, in a sometimes-chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.
Haftar’s eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army has been on the back foot after Turkish support helped the GNA turn back his 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli.
In June, Cairo proposed a peace initiative calling for a ceasefire, withdrawal of mercenaries and disbanding militias in the neighbouring country.
The GNA and Ankara dismissed the plan, which el-Sisi unveiled with Haftar at his side.
Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the United Nations Security Council that the conflict in Libya has entered a new phase “with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels”.
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