Battle rages for Libya’s capital, airport bombed

Local militiamen, belonging to a group opposed to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, on April 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 April 2019
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Battle rages for Libya’s capital, airport bombed

  • Libyan authorities closed the only functioning airport in the capital Tripoli after an air strike
  • 2,800 people have been displaced by clashes around the Libyan capital, but in some areas civilians are trapped

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI: A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on Libya’s capital disregarded global appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Qaddafi’s fall in 2011.

The fighting threatens to disrupt oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck UN plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west. Casualties are mounting.

The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar — a former general in Qaddafi’s army — said 19 of its soldiers had died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians, and wounded 80.

The UN said 2,800 people had been displaced by clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped.

“The United Nations continues to call for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from areas of conflict,” it said in a statement.

UN envoy Ghassan Salame met Serraj in his office in Tripoli on Monday to discuss “this critical and difficult juncture,” the world body’s Libya mission said.

The violence has jeopardized a UN plan for an April 14-16 conference to plan elections and end anarchy that has prevailed since the Western-backed toppling of Qaddafi eight years ago.

The UN refugee agency expressed anxiety about thousands caught in cross-fire and detention centers in conflict zones in a “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.”

As well as the United Nations, the European Union, United States and G7 bloc have all urged a cease-fire and called on all parties in Libya to stop military escalation and return to the negotiating table, voicing support for the efforts of the UN envoy.

But that seemed to fall on deaf ears. Matiga airport, in an eastern suburb, said it was bombed and a resident confirmed the attack. No more details were immediately available.

Haftar’s LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through largely unpopulated desert regions toward the coastal capital.

Seizing Tripoli, however, is a much bigger challenge for the LNA. It has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road toward the center from a disused former international airport.

However, the government of Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj, 59, is seeking to block the LNA with the help of allied armed groups who have rushed to Tripoli from nearby Misrata port in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.

A Reuters correspondent in the city center could hear gunfire in the distance southwards.

Serraj who comes from a wealthy business family, has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a UN-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar. His Tripoli government has reported 11 deaths in the last few days, without saying on which side.
Since NATO-backed rebels ousted Qaddafi, Libya has been a transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hope of reaching Europe across the sea.

Daesh staged some high profile attacks in Tripoli last year, but the militant group has largely retreated to the desert of southern Libya since the loss of its former stronghold in Sirte late in 2016.

France’s stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought a leading role to end the turmoil in its former colony that has played into the hands of militants and smugglers.


Libyan government boasts of new weapons despite arms embargo

Updated 48 min 49 sec ago
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Libyan government boasts of new weapons despite arms embargo

CAIRO/BENGHAZI, Libya: Fighters allied with the Tripoli government in Libya say they have received armored vehicles and “quality weapons” despite a UN arms embargo on the country.
A Facebook page linked to the Government of National Accord (GNA) posted photos appearing to show more than a dozen armored vehicles arriving at a port, without saying who supplied them.
The Facebook page is run by the media office for the GNA’s counter-offensive against Khalifa Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA).
Supporters of the various militias allied with the government say the vehicles, which resemble Turkish-made Kirpi armored vehicles, were supplied by Turkey.
Spokesmen for Turkey’s military and Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month his government would stand by Tripoli authorities as they repel an offensive launched by the LNA
The battle for the Libyan capital has threatened to ignite a civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi. The UN Security Council imposed an open-ended arms embargo on Libya in February of the same year.
Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister for the Tripoli-based government, also visited Turkey late in April to activate “security and defense agreements” between the two governments.
The offensive on Tripoli was launched April 4 by the LNA, which controls the country’s eastern half.
Haftar, who in recent years has been battling extremists and other militias across eastern Libya, says he is determined to restore stability to the North African country. He has received support from several countries in the region including the UAE and Egypt.
“The GNA supplies armor, ammunition and ... weapons, to its forces who are defending Tripoli,” read a statement published on Facebook.
The weapons embargo has been regularly violated by different groups in Libya, according to the UN. Haftar has accused Turkey and Qatar of supplying weapons to his rivals.
In a September report, the UN’s group of experts on the country noted an increase in the number of armored vehicles supplied to LNA.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month his government would stand by Tripoli authorities.
Initially controlling swathes of Libya’s east, Haftar launched an offensive in the south of the country in January before attacking the coastal capital last month.
His forces have been held back from the city center by pro-government forces, with fighting continuing on the outskirts of Tripoli and particularly in the southern suburbs.




Daesh attack

Two guards and a soldier were killed and four other people were kidnapped on Saturday in a suspected Daesh attack targeting Libya’s Zella oilfield, a security source said.
The death toll was confirmed by the National Oil Company (NOC) which condemned the attack in a statement on Saturday evening.
The attackers struck at an entrance gate to the field, which lies near the town of Zella about 760 km southwest of the capital, Tripoli, before fleeing, according to the source and local residents who asked not to be named.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Aamaq news agency later on Saturday.
The Zella field belongs to Zueitina Oil Company, which pumped 19,000 barrels per day on average in the last quarter of 2018 across all its fields.
An engineer told Reuters workers at the field were safe and facilities had not been damaged.
Libya’s NOC chief said on Saturday continued instability in the country could cause it to lose 95 percent of oil production.
Speaking in Saudi Arabia ahead of a ministerial panel gathering on Sunday of top OPEC and non-OPEC producers, Mustafa Sanalla also confirmed the Zella attack.
Islamic State has been active in Libya in the turmoil since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The militant group took control of the coastal city of Sirte in 2015 but lost it late in 2016 to local forces backed by US airstrikes.
In the last two years, the group has targeted three state institutions in Tripoli, home of the UN-backed government of national accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Serraj.
Saturday’s assault took place as LNA, which is allied to a rival administration in eastern Libya, mounts an offensive to control Tripoli.