Libya's internationally recognised government attempted new advances against the militia of retreating warlord Khalifa Haftar, who stood by in Cairo as his ally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, proposed a ceasefire.
The Libyan army launched a military operation on Saturday to liberate cities in eastern and central Libya from militias of warlord Khalifa Haftar.
In a statement, military spokesman Abdel Hadi Dara said the operation, codenamed "path of victory", aims to liberate the cities of Sirte and Jufra and the towns of Wadi Wishka, Buerat, Jarif and Qasr Abu Haid from Haftar's militia.
He said warplanes struck two military vehicles belonging to Haftar south of Wadi Wishka.
For his part, army spokesman Mohammed Kanunu said government forces have been ordered to advance towards Wadi Wishka and Sirte.
He said Libyan warplanes carried out five airstrikes against Haftar's forces near Sirte.
Libyan army's advances
On Friday, the Libyan army liberated the strategic city of Tarhuna – the last stronghold of Haftar in western Libya.
Libya's internationally recognised government Government of National Accord (GNA) has been under attack by Haftar's militia since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.
Tarhuna was a major focal point for supply lines for Haftar’s militias from Jufra airbase.
After retaking the country's main airport, the Libyan Army on Thursday announced the complete liberation of the capital Tripoli.
In March, the Libyan government launched Operation Peace Storm to counter attacks on the capital and recently regained strategic locations, including al Watiya air base, in a major blow to Haftar's forces.
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The UN-backed GNA has been backed by Turkey, while Haftar, whose militia still controls the east and oil fields in the south, has been supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a ceasefire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
Turkish military support for the GNA was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to the military offensive by Haftar’s forces.
Meanwhile, in Cairo on Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, one of Haftar's key foreign supporters, said after talks with the warlord and other eastern militia leaders that they had signed up to a declaration calling for a ceasefire from 6 am (0400 GMT) on Monday.
But the GNA forces' spokesman appeared to pour cold water on the Egyptian proposals, which included a demand that militias disband and hand over their weaponry to Haftar's men.
"We didn't start this war, but we will choose the time and place when it ends," GNA spokesman Mohamad Gnounou said.
He issued a "final call" for Sirte's local leaders to abandon Haftar and spare the Mediterranean coastal city "the horrors of war".
"Our forces continue to advance with force and resolve, chasing the fleeing (Haftar) militias," he said.
Khaled al Meshri, head of the GNA-aligned legislative assembly, said Libyans had no need for new initiatives and rejected Haftar's attempt to return to negotiations after military defeat, according to Al Jazeera.
But the proposal won support from France.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, "hailed the efforts led by Egypt... and today's result aimed at an immediate halt to hostilities", his ministry said.
"Priority must go to the immediate halt... and rapid conclusion of a ceasefire," the minister stressed.
Sisi urged international support for the initiative and called on the United Nations to invite Libya's rival administrations in the east and the west for talks.