Haftar’s forces fire on Libyan capital after losing western towns

The forces of Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar rained rockets on Tripoli on Tuesday after being ousted by government loyalists from a string of strategic towns west of the capital, news wires reported.

The capture Monday of the coastal towns of Sorman and Sabratha and smaller settlements further south was seen as a major blow to Haftar, who in April last year launched an offensive to seize Tripoli. Sorman and Sabratha are situated respectively 60 and 70 kilometres west of the Libyan capital.

Late Monday rockets began raining down on Tripoli, the city where the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is based, and loud explosions could still be heard Tuesday morning, AFP correspondents said. Several homes were hit around Mitiga airbase in the eastern suburbs, the capital's sole and only intermittently functioning airport.

Fighting was also raging between the rival forces east of Tripoli, between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.Misrata is the hometown of many GNA loyalists while the strategic coastal city of Sirte was captured in early January by Haftar forces.

The UN says hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since Haftar launched his battle for Tripoli last year, which then quickly ground to a bloody stalemate.

Jalal Harchaoui, a Libya analyst at The Hague-based Clingendael Institute, said Monday's setback meant Haftar had lost the entire coast west of Tripoli. According to Harchaoui, the Turkish-backed GNA forces have in recent week been more "aggressive... on multiple fronts, often successfully". "High-precision artillery on the ground, Turkish drones and better coordination" were proving a "formidable" combination against Haftar forces, he said. Advanced drones supplied by the UAE have given Haftar, who also relies on backing from Russia, an advantage in the skies.

Several UN-backed attempts to reach a ceasefire between Libya's two rival forces have failed, and the world body has slammed repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo.

The latest escalation comes as concern runs high over the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Libya, where 25 cases and one death have been officially confirmed. The UN has warned that health services in the country are already fragile and that many hospitals near fighting zones south of Tripoli have been damaged or closed.


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