Haftar's LNA gives government forces ultimatum to 'leave Tripoli'

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - General Haftar's LNA issued a statement demanding that the powerful Misrata militias, which are fighting on behalf of the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the Libyan capital, withdraw from both Tripoli and the coastal city of Sirte.

The Misrata militias are named after the western Libyan town of Misrata, which saw some of the heaviest fighting during the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The militias played a key role in Gaddafi's ouster.

For months, the LNA and the militias have been locked in fierce clashes on Tripoli's southern outskirts, with the fighting mostly stalemated.

Last week, LNA commander Khalifa Hafter declared the "zero hour" of the battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months after he began his offensive to take the city. The announcement triggered a fresh bout of clashes around Tripoli.

Friday's LNA statement warned that if the militias do not withdraw, their town Misrata will continue to be targeted "every day, non stop and in an unprecedentedly intensive way".

The warning came shortly after an LNA airstrike targeted sites where Turkish weapons and military equipment had been stored, said the statement. The Tripoli-based government led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj condemned the attack, saying it caused civilian casualties but without providing details.

'Security cooperation'

Also on Friday, Libya's unity government urged five "friendly countries" to implement military deals as it seeks to repel Haftar's onslaught. 

The call came a day after the GNA approved the activation of such a deal with Ankara, paving the way for a bigger Turkish role eight months into Haftar's offensive.

GNA head Sarraj sent letters to the leaders of the United States, Britain, Italy, Algeria and Turkey Friday, urging them to "activate security cooperation deals", his office said in a statement. 

The aim is to help the GNA "face aggression against the Libyan capital... by any armed group operating outside the legitimacy of the state, to preserve social peace and achieve stability in Libya," he said.

Turkey and Qatar, as well as Italy, have been allied with Sarraj's government, while Hafter is backed by France, Russia and key Arab countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The UN mission in Libya tweeted Friday that it regrets the recent escalation in fighting and all foreign interference, and urged Libyans to return to political dialogue.

East vs West

Since Hafter's forces launched their offensive on Tripoli in April, both sides have exchanged accusations of deploying allied foreign forces in the ongoing civil war.

The war has seen Libya divided since 2015 between two governments, one based in the west, in Tripoli, and the other based in the east. Hafter is allied with the east-based government.

Hafter was particularly angered after Sarraj signed a maritime deal and security pact with Turkish President Recep Tayeb Erdogan last month. That pact also angered Egypt. Erdogan later said that Ankara could dispatch Turkish troops to assist the Tripoli-based government - if Sarraj's Cabinet asks for them.

Erdogan renewed his support of Sarraj's government on Friday by criticizing the alleged presence of Russian-backed fighters in Libya.

Read more: Turkish-Libyan alliance in eastern Mediterranean: A game changer?

"It would not be right for us to remain a spectator in the face of this. We have done whatever we can until now and will continue to do so," he told Turkish reporters at the end of a trip to Malaysia.

The Tripoli-based government has recently said that it had evidence Russia was deploying fighters through a private security contractor to back Hafter's forces in key battleground areas in the past months.

Moscow has repeatedly denied playing any role in Libya's fighting.

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