After rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar this week declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital Tripoli, heavy fighting raged for a 24-hour period between his troops and militias loosely allied with the internationally backed government based in the city, officials said Saturday.
The fighting came after Haftar, the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, said Thursday that the “zero hour” of his battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months after he began an offensive to take the city from the country’s Government of National accord supported by the U.N.
The LNA’s media office said it shot down a Turkish-made drone over the town of Ain Zara south of the capital. Haftar forces captured a major military camp from the Tripoli-allied militias and clashes continued around the camp, officials from both sides said.
The LNA also launched airstrikes overnight against an air base at the Air Force Academy in the city of Misrata, targeting military warehouses allegedly housing Turkish-made drones used by Tripoli-allied militias, said LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari.
U.N. experts said in a 376-page report to the U.N. Security Council this week that Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are supporting Libya’s warring sides and have “routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons, with little effort to disguise the source” in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
“The Russian fighters’ toughness, lethal techniques and coordination discipline have instilled fear in the anti-Haftar forces,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at The Netherlands Institute of International Relations. “Now, Haftar and all foreign states backing him have become dramatically more confident that Haftar’s brigades will enter Tripoli within the foreseeable future.”
The U.N. experts’ report also said the presence of Chadian and Sudanese fighters in Libya “has become more marked” in 2019 and said they represent “a direct threat” to the country’s security and stability.
Haftar’s declaration of his most recent offensive came after the signing of a security arrangement and maritime deal between Sarraj’s government and Turkey last month.
The maritime deal would give Turkey access to a Mediterranean Sea economic zone offshore from Libya. Cyprus, Egypt and Greece claim the accord violates international law.
The deal has also added tension to Turkey’s ongoing dispute with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.