Troops loyal to Libya‘s internationally recognised government have retaken control of territory along the capital’s southern districts from renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar‘s eastern-based forces.
Forces aligned with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Tuesday repelled Haftar’s self-styled National Liberation Army (LNA) from the town of Aziziya, pushing the latter’s troops to more than 60km from central Tripoli.
GNA spokesperson Mohammed Qanounou said government forces destroyed eight armoured vehicles belonging to Haftar’s troops.
He added that the GNA air force had conducted seven sorties targeting Haftar’s al-Watiyah airbase and al-Thamenah camp in Gharyan, located about 100km southwest of Tripoli.
A Reuters news agency team driving south of Aziziya through villages on the road to the town of Hira reported seeing several burned-out cars belonging to Haftar’s forces and five dead fighters.
The team made it to about 25km from Gharyan, the forward base for Haftar’s offensive, which poses the greatest challenge to government forces as it lies in the mountains starting after Hira.
Although Haftar has so far failed to wrest control of the capital from the GNA, sporadic fighting on the outskirts has left casualties on both sides.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 272 were killed since Haftar launched his offensive nearly three weeks ago, including 21 civilians, and more than 1,300 wounded.
Fighting has also displaced more than 32,000 people.
The UN agency called on the warring parties to protect civilians and desist from attacking medical personnel, after two ambulances were destroyed, adding that it had sent medical specialists to support hospitals located on the front-lines.
The latest military action is a setback to Haftar’s plans to install himself as ruler of the whole country and could ease a dangerous situation that has divided and confounded foreign governments with an interest in Libya.
However, the front remains fluid and his fortunes could change again. Both sides have gained and lost territory within days or even hours.
If a ceasefire is called as demanded by the UN, the LNA would have still gained a considerable amount of territory.
The North African country has been in state of chaos since Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 with Western intervention, and the latest flare-up threatens to disrupt oil flows and leave a power vacuum that armed groups could exploit.
Migrants in a detention facility in Qasr Ben Ghashir district, which has been fought since the start of the offensive, have reportedly seriously wounded in random shooting, the UN migration agency IOM said. It gave no more details.
Some 3,600 migrants remain trapped in detention centres near the frontline, the UN said in a statement.
“The situation in these detention centres is increasingly desperate, with reports of guards abandoning their posts and leaving people trapped inside,” the UN said. In one facility – Gharyan – has reportedly been without drinking water for days.”