Trump and Haftar discussed ‘counterterrorism efforts’ in Libya

This grab obtained from a video shows Libyan National Army fighters riding atop an armoured vehicle waving gestures and chanting slogans while driving reportedly in a southern suburb of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 20 April 2019

Trump and Haftar discussed ‘counterterrorism efforts’ in Libya

  • The statement said Trump "recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”
  • The two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a “stable, democratic political system”

LONDON: Donald Trump and the Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar discussed “counterterrorism efforts” in the country during a phone call this week.
The two men also talked about the need to achieve “peace and stability in Libya” when they spoke on Monday.
Trump’s contact with Haftar, who heads the Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to the eastern government, is a significant diplomatic boost  for the commander after his forces launched an offensive earlier this month against the rival administration based in the capital Tripoli.
In the call, Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said on Friday.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton also spoke recently to Haftar.
It was unclear why the White House waited several days to announce the phone call.
The LNA launched its offensive against the capital after securing areas of the country’s south earlier this year. Haftar says his forces, which have advanced into Tripoli’s outskirts,  are fighting to clear the country of “terrorist” elements.
His fighters are making “great sacrifices,” LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari said Friday. He added that the LNA is also engaged in a battle against countries that support “terrorism” in Libya. Al-Mesmari did not specify which countries.
He did however claim that extremist militants had travelled from Turkey to Libya to take part in the battle for Tripoli. An array of militias control the capital and parts of the countries east, and many hold a deeply conservative or extremist ideology.
On Thursday, militants attacked one of Haftar’s bases in the far south of the country. The LNA killed 14 of the fighters who launched the assault on the Tamanhint air base near Sabha, Al-Mesmari said during a press conference.
The offensive comes eight years after Arab Spring protests led to the downfall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi and a split in the country between rival governments in the east and west.
The conflict has also split the international community with the UN supporting the Tripoli government but regional powers, Russia and some European countries supporting Haftar. Countries like Egypt see Haftar as a bulwark against extremist groups.
On Thursday, both the US and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya.
The British-drafted resolution blames Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence.
The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.

(With Reuters)

Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

Updated 22 May 2019

Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

  • The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal
  • The Observatory said they have no proof of the chemical attacks

BEIRUT: Air strikes by Damascus or its ally Moscow killed 12 civilians in a market in Syria’s Idlib province, a monitor said Wednesday, and denied allegations that the government used chemical weapons.

Another 18 people were wounded when the warplanes hit the militant-held town of Maarat Al-Numan around midnight on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Observatory said it had no evidence to suggest the Syrian army had carried out a new chemical attack despite Washington’s announcement it had suspicions.

“We have no proof at all of the attack,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

“We have not documented any chemical attack in the mountains of Latakia,” he said.
The air strikes in Idlib came as heavy clashes raged in the north of neighboring Hama province after the militants launched a counterattack on Tuesday against pro-government forces in the town of Kafr Nabuda.
Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 52 — 29 troops and militia and 23 militants, the Observatory said.
It said that the militants had retaken most of the town from government forces who recaptured it on May 8.
The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment of it in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.
A militant alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The northern mountains are the only part of Latakia province, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, that are not firmly in the hands of the government.

The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham accused government forces on Sunday of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the north of Latakia province.

The Syrian army dismissed the reports as a fabrication, a military source told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

But the US State Department said on Tuesday it was assessing indications that the government of president Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on Sunday.

“There were no civilians in the area,” Abdel Rahman said.

White Helmets rescue volunteers, who have reported past chemical attacks in rebel-held areas of Syria, told AFP Wednesday that they had no information on the purported gas attack.

International inspectors say Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks during the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region which threatened humanitarian disaster for its three million residents.
President Bashar Assad’s government has renewed its bombardment of the region since HTS took control in January.
Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks as Turkey proved unable to secure implementation of the truce deal by the militants.
The Observatory says more than 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, and the United Nations has said tens of thousands have fled their homes.