Haftar attacking Tripoli with Egyptian, UAE and Saudi arms, Libya General claims

Geraldine Edwards
April 7, 2019

Forces loyal to rival Libyan army commander Khalifa Hifter say they have seized control of the main airport in Libya's capital Tripoli, two days after Hifter ordered his forces to seize the seat of Libya's United Nations -backed government.

Forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar on Thursday encircled Tripoli in a long-anticipated push to take the capital and wrest power away from the Western-backed government.

Fierce fighting is continuing around the site of the city's worldwide airport at Wadi Al Rabea, with Field Marshall Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA) claiming to have captured the airport. The general's loyalists say five of their troops have been killed in the clashes. The country is governed by rival authorities: The internationally backed government in Tripoli and the government in the east, which Hifter is aligned with.

Haftar's troops are assembled in the area of Jufra, and it is thought forces from the coastal town of Misrata, loyal to the government of Sarraj, are willing to stage attacks on Haftar.

Haftar's dramatic bid to take Tripoli came as a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers was being held in northern France with the club issuing a statement on Friday urging an immediate halt to "all military activity and movements toward Tripoli".

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A Russian spokesman earlier told reporters the Kremlin does not support Gen Haftar's advance and said it wants a solution by "peaceful political means".

"We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the EU High Representative, gathered in Saint-Malo on 5 April express our deepest concern about military operations near Tripoli, Libya".

"I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli", Guterres tweeted.

Haftar, 75, was quoted by Al-Arabiya TV as telling Guterres his offensive would continue until terrorism was defeated.

"We are determined" to hold the talks "as scheduled" on April 14 unless prevented by serious obstacles, United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame said Saturday at a press conference in the capital.

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Pro-government forces in the capital Tripoli confirmed they had targeted Haftar's men with "intensive strikes".

Libya's rival leaders, GNA's Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and Haftar, agreed in Paris last year to hold elections before the end of the year, but that vote never materialized as the two rival administrations and numerous militias grapple for power. Each are backed by an array of militias.

Former lawmaker Abdel-Raouf al-Manaei said the forces fighting under the umbrella of the Government of National Accord will not permit "a replica of el-Sissi military rule in Libya", in reference to the authoritarian Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who is an army chief turned president.

The Libyan commander's opposition to another Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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