UN-backed Libyan govt. launches counteroffensive to stop advance of Haftar’s forces on Tripoli
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UN-backed Libyan govt. launches counteroffensive to stop advance of Haftar’s forces on Tripoli

The counteroffensive – dubbed ‘Volcano of Rage’ – is aimed at purging “Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces,” Colonel Mohamed Gnounou, spokesperson for forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), said on Sunday. Pro-Haftar forces of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) control Libya’s east and have recently expanded to the southern parts of the North African state. They started their advance on Tripoli on April 4 with the aim of seizing the city and toppling the internationally-recognized government there. The military operation was launched after UN Secretary General visited Libya and announced a plan for a UN-backed conference slated for mid-April designed to help unite rival Libyan forces and pave the way for elections in the volatile country. Fierce fighting was reported on Sunday south of Tripoli between the rival forces, with the two sides exchanging air strikes, despite a call by the UN’s Libya mission, UNSMIL, for a truce aimed at letting civilians and the injured flee the conflict zones. LNA forces carried out an air raid on the southern part of Tripoli on Sunday and made progress towards the city center, residents said, adding that the fighting had escalated and the situation there was tense. “The air force took part for the first time in the military operations,” said LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari. “It conducted a very successful operation to secure the airport road (to city center),” he claimed. The counteroffensive was announced as the clashes raged in the rural area of Wadi Raba and the destroyed international airport south of the capital. At least 32 people have so far been killed and around 50 wounded in fighting with Haftar’s troops near Tripoli, Libyan Health Minister Ahmid Omar told the Al-Ahrar television station late Sunday. Haftar’s forces also said 14 of their fighters have died so far. The United Nations humanitarian office said in a report on Monday that at least 2,200 people have fled from fighting south of Tripoli since April 4, and many civilians were trapped and cut off from emergency services. “The fast increasing deployment of forces could potentially result in significant population displacement,” the report added. On Friday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the situation in Libya behind closed doors. In a statement to the press afterwards, the 15-member body called on LNA forces to halt “all military movements.” The council’s members “also called on all forces to de-escalate and halt military activity” and said, “There can be no military solution to the conflict.” Diplomats said Monday that Russia had blocked a statement demanding that Haftar’s troops halt their advance on Tripoli. Russia suggested that the UNSC statement must call on both sides of the conflict to stop fighting; however, the proposed change was rejected by the United States, council’s diplomats added. US, EU react US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday called for an “immediate halt” to Haftar’s military offensive. “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar's forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said late Sunday. “This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans.”  He urged both sides to return to “political negotiations” mediated by the UN, stressing that there was “no military solution” to the conflict in Libya. As the situation worsened on the ground, the US military said earlier in the day that it had pulled out an unspecified number of its international AFRICOM peacekeeping force. In turn, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Monday for a humanitarian truce in Libya and the return to the negotiating table. Mogherini urged Libyan leaders to avoid any military escalation and said EU foreign ministers, who gather on Monday in Luxembourg for a regular meeting, are expected to uphold this message. Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed in a NATO military intervention that followed a popular uprising. Gaddafi’s ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group. The North African country is now divided between two rival governments – the House of Representatives, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk and under the command of  Haftar, and the internationally-recognized unity government of Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli. Analysts say Haftar’s offensive could plunge Libya into a full-blown conflict and once again thwart diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the country’s woes.

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