Tripoli risks descending into conflict as Libyan rivals make contradictory victory claims

Libyan strongman General Khalifa Haftar has directed his forces to move on Tripoli • UN Secretary General leaves Libya with a 'heavy heart'

General Khalifa Haftar refuses to recognise the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya
General Khalifa Haftar refuses to recognise the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya

Libyan rivals were making contradictory claims over territorial gains in the outskirts of Tripoli after eastern-based General Khalifa Haftar directed his forces to move on the capital.

Haftar declared war on Tripoli on Thursday when he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to take the capital from where the UN-backed Government of National Accord operates.

More than 120 fighters loyal to Haftar were captured after an attack on a crucial checkpoint west of Tripoli was repulsed by forces allied with the Government of National Accord (Photo: The Libya Observer)
More than 120 fighters loyal to Haftar were captured after an attack on a crucial checkpoint west of Tripoli was repulsed by forces allied with the Government of National Accord (Photo: The Libya Observer)

However, militias loyal to the UN-backed government led by Fayez al-Sarraj, are said to have repulsed an attempt by Haftar's forces to take control of a checkpoint on the coastal road west of the capital linking Tripoli to the city of Zawiya. More than 120 LNA fighters were also captured.

By Friday evening, the LNA and its rivals were making contradictory claims of battlefield gains in the outskirts of Tripoli. Fighters from the coastal city of Misrata, which is fiercely opposed to Haftar, had also mobilised to protect the capital.

On Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was leaving Libya with a "heavy heart" and was deeply concerned, after holding a meeting with Haftar.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Guterres was in Libya on Thursday to help with the setting of a national peace conference later this month in a bid to broker an agreement between the different factions. Haftar's declaration of war on Tripoli on the same day came as a surprise to many.

Guterres flew to the east of Libya on Friday but his efforts failed to convince Haftar to stop his military actions.

Reports from inside Libya suggest Haftar's move may have been part of a power game ahead of the national conference. The Government of National Accord commands little territorial authority in a country run by different militias and a rival parliament based in the east.

The eastern parliament based in Tobruk is allied with Haftar, a 75-year-old general who once served in the army under Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya has remained unstable and riven by sporadic conflict after Gaddafi's overthrow with the help of European and American forces in 2011.

Eight years later a serious escalation of conflict risks bloodying the streets of Tripoli.

UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting

Germany called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council due to the military escalation.

G7 ministers urged an immediate halt to "all military activity and movements towards Tripoli" on Friday. The foreign ministers from France, Britain, Germany, US, Italy, Japan and Canada reiterated their belief that there was no military solution to the Libyan conflict.

The statement added that military activity is “hindering prospects for the UN-led political process, putting civilians in danger, and prolonging the suffering of the Libyan people”.

Russia said it was not helping Haftar's forces and it supported a negotiated political settlement that ruled out any new bloodshed.

"The situation should be resolved peacefully," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Haftar enjoys support from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who see him as an ally for his opposition to Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood.

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