Libya Force Pushes to Western City 01/26 09:31
CAIRO (AP) -- Officials from Libya's two rival governments said fighting
erupted Sunday as the country's east-based forces advanced toward the strategic
western city of Misrata, further eroding a crumbling cease-fire agreement
brokered earlier this month.
The clashes came just hours after the United Nations decried "continued
blatant violations" of an arms embargo on Libya by several unspecified
countries. The violations fly in the face of recent pledges to respect the
embargo made by world powers at an international conference in Berlin last week.
Libya sits on Africa's Mediterranean coast, and is divided between rival
governments, each supported by various armed militias and foreign backers. It
has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil
reserves in Africa.
The weak but U.N.-recognized government in the capital Tripoli is backed by
Turkey, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. Rival forces loyal to military
commander Khalifa Hifter receive support from the United Arab Emirates and
Egypt, as well as France and Russia.
Hifter's forces were advancing some 120 kilometers (around 75 miles) east of
Misrata, near the town of Abugrain, according to the media office of militias
allied with the Tripoli government. It said clashes were still taking place in
the outskirts of Abugrein.
An official with Hifter's forces said they have wrested control of two
towns, Qaddaheya and Wadi Zamzam, on their way to Abugrein. The official spoke
on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Misrata, in western Libya, is the country's second largest city and is home
to militias who oppose Hifter and have been extremely important in the
government's defense of Tripoli. Hifter's forces have laid siege to the capital
since last April. The nationwide truce, brokered by Russia and Turkey, marked
the first break in fighting in months, but there have been repeated violations.
Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at The Netherlands Institute of
International Relations, said Hifter's swing toward Misrata was a tactic
calculated to draw away the Misratan militias defending the capital toward
their hometown. He said it had a "good chance of succeeding" and weakening the
U.N.-government's defenses in Tripoli as a result.
Hifter's forces captured Sirte earlier this month, a major below to
Tripoli-based administration. Sirte is located about 370 kilometers (230 miles)
east of Tripoli.
Late Saturday, the U.N. support mission in Libya released a statement saying
"several (countries) who participated in the Berlin Conference" have been
violating the arms embargo.
"Over the last ten days, numerous cargo and other flights have been observed
landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country
providing the parties with advanced weapons, armored vehicles, advisers and
fighters," the U.N. statement said.
Among those who attended the Berlin conference were Russian President
Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President
Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Italian Premier
Giuseppe Conte, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The peace push followed a surge in Hifter's offensive against Tripoli, which
threatened to plunge Libya into chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted
and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Earlier this month, powerful tribal groups loyal to Hifter also seized
several large oil export terminals along the eastern coast as well as southern
oil fields. The closure of Libya's major oil fields and production facilities
has resulted in losses of more than $255 million in the six-day period ending
Jan. 23, the country's national oil company said Saturday.