Battle for Tripoli Escalates as Fighting Nears Libyan Capital

April 07: On 5 April 2019, unconfirmed reports emerged which indicate that unrecognized Libyan National Army (LNA) forces advanced into Tripoli along multiple axes of approach. The reporting indicates that the LNA — led by Gen. Khalifa Hafter — has taken control of the defunct Tripoli International Airport (HLLT/TIP). The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) denied the reports and stated that the facility is still under GNA control. The fighting did not affect operations at Mitiga International Airport (HLLM/ MJI), which is located approximately 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Tripoli International Airport; the airport remains open.

The battle for Tripoli escalated on Sunday as a military assault on the city by the eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar led to 21 deaths and nearly 90 injuries, and international calls for calm were ignored.

As the fighting neared the capital, the UN issued a plea for a temporary ceasefire to allow the wounded to be evacuated. Hours earlier, the US announced it was withdrawing some of its troops from the country, citing deteriorating “security conditions on the ground”. India also withdrew a group of its peacekeepers, saying the situation in Libya had suddenly worsened.

The international airport 15 miles south of central Tripoli was a scene of fierce battles after Haftar claimed to have seized control of the area from the UN-backed government of national accord.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, backed by the United Arab Emirates, is leading a multi-pronged assault on the capital in an attempt to overthrow the Tripoli-based GNA.

The death toll issued by the GNA and confirmed by Tripoli hospitals suggest Haftar’s hopes of an immediate collapse of the GNA’s diverse defences have been dashed. But Haftar appears intent on pressing ahead with a decisive battle that will endanger the chances of a UN-sponsored reconciliation between forces in the east and west of the country.

In a battle already marked by wildly conflicting claims, the LNA said the defences of the Tripoli militia were surrendering, but a spokesman for pro-GNA forces announced a counter-offensive against Haftar’s forces.

The spokesman, Col Mohamed Gnounou, said Operation Volcano of Anger was aimed at “purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces”, in reference to Haftar’s fighters.

The LNA said it had carried out its first air raid on a Tripoli suburb, defying calls by the international community to halt hostilities. Both sides launched airstrikes over the weekend, with Tripoli residents reporting indiscriminate artillery fire hitting homes across the capital.

In a fast-moving military situation, Haftar’s forces claimed over the weekend to have captured Tripoli’s international airport, in the southern part of the city, but this was denied by the GNA and there was fighting there on Sunday.

Tripoli’s schools were closed for a week and queues formed at petrol stations. The Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said he was concerned for the welfare of Italian employees of oil firms such as ENI.

An air assault was mounted on military vehicles belonging to the GNA presidential council’s Naqlia camp. It is thought Haftar has superior air forces supplied by the UAE.There is also mounting concern in Washington about Russia’s role in Libya, with diplomatic sources recently accusing Moscow of deploying up to 300 mercenaries in eastern Libya to support Haftar.

Speaking before an EU foreign affairs council in Brussels on Monday, the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would “work every channel to encourage restraint and avoid bloodshed”, adding there was “no justification for [the] LNA move on Tripoli”.

Calls for sanctions to be taken against Haftar were heard for the first time, including from a former UK ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, will try to organise a united front at a meeting of the EU foreign affairs council on Monday. Tensions between Rome and Paris over the extent of Emmanuel Macron’s past support for Haftar have been simmering for months.

Source: The Guardian

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