Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dozens Die as Libyan Rebels Battle Rage
John Pearson
Foreign Correspondent
May 27, 2017 11:44 PM

Battles between rival militias in the Libyan capital Tripoli have left at least 28 dead and 130 wounded, the city’s health ministry said on Saturday.

The fighting on Friday was the most serious in a string of eruptions of violence between the galaxy of militias controlling the city as they battle for supremacy and power in the chaos that is Libya.

Residents were left cowering under tank and rocket fire after fighters supporting former prime minister Khalifa Ghweil launched attacks at dawn in an operation they named "Pride of Libya".

Their first target was a villa complex at the central Rixos hotel that is held by militias who support the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which displaced Mr Ghweil’s government in March last year.

Battles raged around the complex, with buildings set ablaze. Thick black smoke enveloped sectors of the complex as fighting then fanned out to the Salahaddin district, and around the highway to the city’s international airport, closed and destroyed in militia fighting three years ago.

Later in the day pro-GNA militias rallied, sending reinforcements to the front line with the GNA’s Presidential Council, led by prime minister Fayez Al Serraj, urging residents to support those battling what it called "rogue outlaws". In the chaotic fighting, missiles and bullets ranged across the city, one projectile hitting the headquarters of Melitta Oil and Gas company.

By dusk the attack appeared to have failed, with pro-GNA units holding their positions.

One of the sites they were fighting over was Hadba prison, where several Qaddafi-era officials are jailed, some awaiting trial on war crimes charges. They include the late dictator’s son Saadi, former intelligence chief Abdullah Al Senussi and former prime minister Baghdadi Al Mahmudi. A pro-GNA militia which captured the prison complex, which was partly in flames, said they had found empty cells, with reports on social media in Tripoli claiming the inmates had been moved by the militia who fled the jail, to another, undisclosed, location.

The UN Security Council condemned the fighting and appealed for calm, calling on "all parties in Libya to exercise restraint......... to express their support for national reconciliation".

But the prospect for reconciliation seems remote. As well as the fighting in Tripoli, there are the repercussions of a massacre by militias in southern Libya on May 18 against the Libya National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which is loyal to a third government, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.

A total of 141 people, many of them unarmed LNA cadets, were killed in the surprise attack on Brak Al Shat airbase by a pro-GNA militia, which the Security Council said "reportedly resulted in the summary executions of combatants and civilians".

The GNA insisted it had no part in the attack and has promised to investigate, but the executions, one of the worst atrocities in a civil war stretching back to 2014, has poisoned the atmosphere between the warring sides.

Field Marshal Haftar’s forces, backed by air strikes, quickly recaptured Brak Al Shati and earlier this week took control of a second southern airbase, Tamenhint, giving them strategic control of the south.

More fighting is continuing in Benghazi, where Field Marshall Haftar’s forces are battling for two enclaves held by a militia, the Shura Council, all of it dashing hopes of peace after recent diplomatic breakthroughs.

On May 3 Mr Al Serraj met in Abu Dhabi with Field Marshal Haftar, only the second such meeting since he took office, with UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs voicing optimism of "an important step on the road to reaching a tangible progress in the political process".

That step, with the UAE coordinating diplomacy with Egypt, the UN and several other states, saw both men talk of forming a joint commission, with representatives from both the GNA and Tobruk parliament, to negotiate a power-sharing government. Diplomats say the door to further talks remains open, but the Tripoli battles have rendered peace a distant prospect.

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