Libya: Khalifa Haftar to press on with Tripoli campaign

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The military commander of eastern Libya-based forces said Saturday that they will continue fighting forces loosely allied with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, even though his campaign has suffered setbacks in recent weeks.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of Libyan National Army (LNA), has been waging a campaign for over a year trying to capture the capital. The military tide has been reversed in recent weeks, and his forces lost several towns and a key airbase.

Mr Hafter's side controls the country’s east and most of the south, while the GNA controls areas in the west, including Tripoli.

In a two-minute audio speech addressed to his forces, Mr Haftar said they “will fight and fight” against what he called “Turkish colonialism.”

Turkey is aiding the embattled government in Tripoli. It has recently stepped up its military support with armoured drones, air defences and Syrian mercenaries with links to extremist groups.

“To our brave officers and soldiers, you are fighting a holy war that is open to all fronts, a comprehensive war in which there is nothing but victory,” Mr Haftar said in the speech. “Every Turkish solider, mercenary sent by [Turkey's President Recep Tayyip' Erdogan] to Libya and every traitor who has allowed the occupier to return is a target of our armed forces.”

On Friday, US President Donald called for a "rapid de-escalation" of the Libyan conflict on a call with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, the White House said, after recent gains by forces backed by Turkey prompted threats of retaliation.

Ankara said the Nato allies agreed to continue pursuing stability in the eastern Mediterranean region, including in Syria, while a spokesman for Erdogan said the international community must stand with Turkey in the Libyan conflict.

Col. Mohamed Gnounou, a spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces, said Saturday that they seized two military camps on the outskirts of Tripoli that LNA forces had captured at the beginning of their campaign last year.

Mr Haftar's side said its fighters were merely completing a retreat of 2 to 3 kilometres from Tripoli’s southern reaches to allow families to visit each other safely in celebration of the Eid al Fitr holiday Sunday. It also said they had retaken the Yarmouk military camp and killed “large number of the militias" and captured a dozen others. It said they shot down two Turkish drones over southern Tripoli that were targeting their forces.

Fighters with Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) gather at a position near the town of Garabulli, some 70 kms east of the capital Tripoli AFP

The claims of the two sides could not be independently verified.

The US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, called Saturday for a halt to the “destabilising flow” of Russian and other foreign military equipment and mercenaries into Libya.

“The needless offensive against Tripoli must end so all foreign forces can depart and Libyan leaders who are prepared to lay down their weapons can come together in peaceful dialogue on the issues that divide them,” Norland said during a phone call with Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj.

Aguila Saleh, the speaker of Libya's parliament, called for the UN Security Council to withdraw its recognition of the Tripoli-based government and appoint a new administration representing all Libyan regions.

In an address aimed at the Libyan people on the eve of Eid Al Fitr, he also called for clearing Tripoli of “terrorist groups” and a fair distribution of the nation's oil and gas revenues.

The escalation in fighting comes despite increased international pressure on both sides to return to negotiating a political settlement and to halt the violence over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Libya has reported at least 75 cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, including three deaths.

Updated: May 24, 2020 02:07 AM

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