Haftar forces press offensive on Libyan capital

A Libyan fighter fires a rocket propelled grenade during clashes with forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli’s suburb of Ain Zara, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019

Haftar forces press offensive on Libyan capital

  • Tripoli air traffic was suspended overnight to Sunday for “security reasons,” the city’s only operating airport said Sunday

TRIPOLI: Forces backing Libya’s unity government battled to push back an offensive by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar on Sunday as his troops approached the gates of Tripoli after air raids overnight.
Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), galvanized by victories in its eastern stronghold and in the country’s desert south, announced an offensive early this month to seize the capital from the administration of Fayez Al-Serraj.
But his forces have faced fierce resistance from armed groups backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), including powerful factions from the western city of Misrata.
The bloodshed has derailed efforts to bring peace to a country where militants and people smugglers have exploited the chaos unleashed by the NATO-backed overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Clashes intensified on Saturday when forces loyal to the GNA announced a counterattack.
“We have launched a new phase of attack. Orders were given early this morning to advance and gain ground,” said Mustafa Al-Mejii, a spokesman for GNA forces.
Sustained rocket and shellfire could be heard in several districts of Tripoli on Saturday, after several days of less intense fighting and stalemate on the ground.
Explosions were heard from the city center overnight, and some witnesses reported airstrikes.
Pope Francis, delivering his traditional Easter message, called for an end to “conflict and bloodshed” that was killing “defenseless people” in Libya.
“I urge the parties involved to choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability,” he said.
Tripoli air traffic was suspended overnight to Sunday for “security reasons,” the city’s only operating airport said Sunday.
At least two flights were re-routed from Mitiga airport to Misrata, more than 200 km to the east, the airport’s authorities said on their Facebook page. They said flights had resumed early in the morning to Mitiga, east of the capital.

The former military air base was hit by an airstrike on April 8, claimed by the LNA, and has since only operated between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.
The GNA counter-attack put pro-government forces back in control of Ain Zara, in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, where an AFP team confirmed pro-GNA forces had advanced, shifting the front line a few kilometers south.
GNA spokesman Mejii told AFP on Sunday morning that “after a long day of military success, our forces are consolidating their (new) positions.”
Some witnesses spoke of air raids and drones, but Mejii said the blasts were caused by strikes from LNA helicopters aimed at “terrorizing civilians.”
He said they had not caused any casualties but had taken place away from the front lines, without offering any further details.
Military sources say the aging Soviet and Russian fighter jets used by both sides are not equipped to carry out night time strikes, but Mejii said Haftar’s forces have a helicopter with night vision capabilities.
The UN’s Libya envoy warned on Thursday of “a widening conflagration” in the North African country.
Ghassan Salame told AFP that “international divisions” prior to the assault on Tripoli had emboldened Haftar, who is backed by Russia and seen by his allies Egypt and the UAE as a bulwark against militants.
The White House revealed Friday that US President Donald Trump reached out personally to Haftar, as a push at the UN to broker a cease-fire hit trouble.
A statement said that Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources,” adding that “the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”
Observers saw Trump’s words of praise for the strongman as evidence of US support that explains Haftar’s determination to pursue his offensive to seize Tripoli.
On Thursday, Russia and the US opposed a British bid backed by France and Germany at the UN Security Council to demand a cease-fire in Libya.
Russia insisted on having no criticism of Haftar in the proposed resolution, while the US said it wanted more time to consider the situation.

Jordanians celebrate country’s 74th Independence Day in confident mood

Updated 28 min 23 sec ago

Jordanians celebrate country’s 74th Independence Day in confident mood

  • The festivities followed a three-day lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the killer virus in the country

AMMAN: Jordanians on Monday took to the streets to celebrate their country’s 74th Independence Day amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

The festivities followed a three-day lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the killer virus in the country, which has so far recorded 708 cases and nine deaths.

Jordan’s population of almost 10 million people, the majority of them in their youth and belonging to different backgrounds and ethnicities which pride themselves on peaceful coexistence, woke up to national flags fluttering throughout the nation as well as on the Google search home page.

The COVID-19 pandemic has instilled a sense of nationalism and unity as well as confidence in the country’s leadership that has not been felt in years.

Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Mothanna Gharaibeh told Arab News that the virus outbreak had helped to boost Jordan’s digital resilience. “During the crisis, internet traffic grew by 70 percent overnight and yet our resilient internet network was able to take it without any reduction on YouTube or Netflix quality.”

Gharaibeh, the youngest minister in Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government, said that the private and public sectors had been working together during the COVID-19 emergency to overcome many challenges.

“From security to food delivery and online learning, thousands of Jordanians who were serving global customers continued to deliver quality services from their homes,” he added.

The minister, who was an activist during the short-lived Jordanian spring in 2011, pointed out that despite the economic difficulties caused by the lockdown there had been some positives to emerge from the situation.

“We grew by 700-plus jobs in the last two months by top companies like Cisco, Webhelp, BIGO/IMO, and others relying on the Jordanian solid infrastructure, skills, and work ethics,” he said.

Mahmoud Zawahreh, a young political activist from the city of Zarqa, told Arab News that Jordan was battling on two fronts. “The struggle is against different challenges in dealing with the coronavirus as well as the external political challenges.

“Jordan is being forced to escalate its response due to the dangers from the Israeli intentions to annex Palestinian territories while at the same time it has to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Maamoun Abu Nawwar, a retired two-star air force general, said the people and leaders of Jordan had succeeded in finding a common ground as a nation. “There is a successful trilateral cooperation between the leadership, the army and the people.

“There is a close-knit atmosphere that has been recently articulated with many Jordanians returning from abroad because of the pandemic and realizing how great their country is and that it takes care of its people.”

He added that Jordan faced a difficult future and that some of its challenges were “existential” and required a holistic approach. “Jordan needs to be more inclusive to all regional neighbors to seek their help and protection from Israel.”

He believes that some of its neighbors have not risen to the challenges facing the country. “There is bitterness in Jordan regarding how much it can count on regional powers to stand with it. At times Jordan feels like it has to stand alone because it refuses to take sides in regional disputes,” Abu Nawwar said.

Tareq Khoury, the former head of the Wehdat Football Club and now a member of parliament representing Zarqa, told Arab News that independence required hard decisions including the cancellation of the Wadi Araba Treaty (Jordan-Israel peace accord).

“Independence requires fighting with the occupying enemy who is targeting our holy places and the Jordan Valley,” he said.

Khoury, a businessman who trades with regional countries, said that a much more robust economic relationship was needed.

Samar Nassar, the first female secretary-general of the Jordanian Football Association, said Jordan had been a sports pioneer in the region, championing women empowerment, and using sports for social change.

“We hosted the FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup, which was the first international tournament of its scale in the Arab world and we hosted the 2018 women’s Asian Cup final.”