Warlord Khalifa Haftar strongman in April launched an offensive against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Heavy fighting raged over the past 24 hours between rebel Libyan warlord Haftar, who is attempting to take control of the capital Tripoli, and the UN-recognised Government of the National Accord (GNA) forces, officials said on Saturday.
The fresh bout of fighting comes after Haftar the leader of the LNA, declared Thursday that the “zero hour” of the battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months since he began his offensive to take the city.
Mercenary fighters on both sides played a crucial role in the most recent offensive.
The LNA media office shared footage of reinforcements arriving in Tripoli, including ground troops and armoured vehicles, and of clashes in the southern areas. It said Haftar's forces took control of the al Tawghaar town, just south of the city. However, Tripoli-based forces disputed the claim.
GNA forces targeted the multinational mercenary forces supporting Haftar on the al Yarmouk front in the Ein Zara region south of the capital, Tripoli, with artillery fire, the Government of the National Accord statement said, according to Anadolu Agency.
The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In the chaos that followed, the country was divided, with a weak UN-supported administration in Tripoli and a rival government in the east aligned with the LNA.
A spokesman for the LNA, Ahmed al Mesmari, said the LNA also launched airstrikes overnight against an airbase at the Air Force Academy in the western city of Misrata, targeting military warehouses.
Misrata, the second-largest city in western Libya, is home of fierce militias opposing Haftar. These militias have been critical in defending Tripoli.
Haftar forces captured a major military camp from the Tripoli-allied militias and clashes were continuing around the camp, officials from both sides said.
There was heavy fighting elsewhere around Tripoli in the new push by Haftar's forces. Officials on both sides called this offensive “different” from previous ones in the past eight months.
“It is a matter of days, and we will root out this corrupt and treacherous government," an official within the LNA said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Since his militants marched toward Tripoli in April, Haftar has only been able to lay siege to the city, failing to claim it from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj. In past months, the battle lines have changed very little, with both sides dug in and shelling one another in the southern reaches of the capital. They have also sought support from their regional and international backers.
The new push by Haftar came after Sarraj’s government signed a security arrangement and maritime deal with Turkey last month.
The maritime deal would give Turkey access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, over the objections of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus.