Fierce fighting on outskirts of Tripoli continues without any clear progress from either side as conflicting narratives endure

By Sami Zaptia.

London, 30 April 2019:

Fierce fighting continued over the last two days and overnight on the outskirts of Tripoli between the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) and its aligned forces on the one hand, and forces aligned to the internationally recognized Presidency Council and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) led by Faiez Serraj.

Fighting took place around Aziziya, Sbea, Sug il Sibt and Yarmouk. There were also reports of air strikes in Ain Zara, Abu Sleem and Khallat Al-Furjan.

Meanwhile, the various United Nations partner humanitarian agencies report increased internally displaced. In its latest report released yesterday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that one child was killed and three children injured in airstrikes during past three days.

It said that the armed conflict continues to impact health facilities, as shelling damaged a hospital in Sbea on Sunday, leading to temporary evacuation and disruption of health services.

It reported that there have been 96 civilian casualties of which 22 were fatal since the conflict started 4 weeks ago. It said that 42,000 have been displaced with 3,350 refugees or migrants in detention centres exposed or at risk from the conflict. To date, it reported that 29,900 people have been assisted with some form of humanitarian service.

The report reminded all parties to the conflict that the principal of proportionality, as preserved in International Humanitarian Law, must be adhered to. All sides must avoid the indiscriminate use of force such as the use of aerial bombardment or shelling in civilian areas.

On the battlefront, the Serraj GNA aligned Volcano of Anger Operations Room claimed yesterday that on the Aziziya frontline, its forces ‘‘advanced and took control of strategic sites in areas of ​​Sbea and Suq Il-Sibt’’.

There was also heavy fighting reported around the Yarmouk frontline, where initially, it was thought that the Hafter aligned forces had made considerable progress up to the edge of Salah Al-Deen. However, it seems that the Serraj GNA-aligned forces succeeded in repelling the offensive.

The Serraj GNA aligned Air Force claimed that it had carried out 10 air raids targeting pro Hafter armoured vehicles and supporting their forces on the ground.

They claimed that as a result of the failure of the Hafter-aligned forces to make advances on the ground since the beginning of the attack on Tripoli, the ‘‘countries supporting the war criminal Hafter intervened with their aircrafts deliberately targeting homes of civilians’’, most recently on Sunday morning in Ain Zara, and previously in Abu Sleem, leading to civilian casualties.

The Serraj GNA-aligned forces also accused the Hafter side of using its ‘‘militias with support from some countries’’ to take over and use oil installations as military bases. It reminded that this is a crime that is to be added to the crimes that the Hafter side will be prosecute for.

They renewed their call for all of those who are fighting with Hafter to abandon their weapons and surrender themselves, before Hafter, ‘‘who pushed them’’ into this battle, ‘‘abandons them’’ like he did with their former comrades, Volcano of Anger Operations Room said.

On the other hand, the LNA Official Spokesperson, Ahmed Mesmari, claimed that there has been ‘‘great improvement in the LNA’s performance’’ since Saturday and that the LNA have the ‘‘endurance to carry through these battles. We are fighting day and night and committing to all rules of engagement’’.

He claimed that on Sunday the GNA forces ‘’breached all international conventions by attacking Sbea civilian area”. He also claimed they ‘‘shelled various civilian locations in Tarhuna, Sug Khamis and Sbea’’. The LNA spokesperson also claimed that LNA jet fighters targeted what he referred to as ‘‘Misurata’s terrorist militias operations room in Ghout Al-ruman east of Tajura’’.

Continuing the LNA narrative that Tripoli is full of terrorists, Mesmari said that ‘‘the battle is between the Libyan people and terrorist groups’’. He claimed that the LNA targeted an ‘‘Al-Qaeda operations room near Tripoli”. He said that the LNA operations are ‘‘continuing and our air force is working on destroying armed militias and terrorist groups combat capabilities’’.

With reference to the comment by Fathi Bashagha, the Faiez Serraj Minister of Interior, that the LNA’s Air Force accuracy indicates that they are using foreign fighters, Mesmari took the comment as a compliment of the accuracy of the LNA’s Air Force, rather than a criticism.

On the political front, Muhanad Younis, the Official Spokesperson for the Serraj PC/GNA yesterday condemned foreign participation in the Tripoli war. In his statement, Younis did not mention UAE, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, however, many foreign experts have concluded that some of the accurate and night-time air raids are too sophisticated to be carried out by the LNA and its ageing technology.

Younis said that over the past few days, the civilians of Tripoli endured deadly and illegal air raids targeting populated areas, which included civilian targets and the city’s infrastructure in the heavily populated areas of Ain Zara and Abu Sleem.

He stated that the attacks were carried out by ‘‘foreign aircraft’’ and that those foreign countries ‘‘must answer for the murders of innocents in Tripoli…as well as for their partnership with a known war criminal’’.

Younis added that ‘‘these atrocities and the violation of sovereignty require accountability and justice’’. He said that the international community has ‘‘a duty to intervene to support the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Tripoli’s more than 3 million people’’. Libya’s problems cannot be solved through violence against civilians, he added.

Younis said that Khalifa Hafter’s backers are funding and arming a man accused by the ICC of war crimes and that in the process of funding Hafter’s war machine, these foreign governments and backers are helping to create a humanitarian crisis in Libya, laying the ground for a resurgence of terrorism, and creating a situation that will lead to mass migration of refugees to Europe.

Younis concluded that ‘‘Hafter’s personal war’’ is also placing Libya’s oil industry at risk, the cost of which will be borne by energy consumers around the world.

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