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According to the head of Libya’s eastern parliament, forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar are set to move in on Libya’s capital, Tripoli. This announcement, which was made on Sunday, comes after Haftar announced his plan to attack and take the city from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
The head of the House of Representatives (which is an ally of General Haftar), Aguila Saleh, spoke during the weekend of the need to “get rid of militias and terrorist groups.” The militias and terrorists he was referring to are the forces affiliated with the aforementioned al-Sarraj government in Tripoli.
Meanwhile, on that very same day, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Haftar in Cairo to discuss the latest developments in Libya. There are no details about what was actually discussed during the meeting. What is known, however, is that el-Sisi is a close political ally of Haftar and an ardent supporter his forces, which control parts of eastern Libya. The Egyptian leader’s support of the Libyan general is mostly motivated by the fact that Haftar’s ”Libyan National Army,” is seen as bulwark against Islamist militants in the region. Haftar is known to have the support of leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On Saturday, Haftar’s forces conducted an air raid that hit the yard of a school on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, where Haftar’s forces have been confronted by forces allied to the UN-backed government. At the present time, there is also talk of a new front in the battle for control of Libya; Haftar’s eastern Libya National Army (LNA) is said to be readying a unit to move to Libya’s biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. An unnamed official is cited as saying that the unit ”will strengthen the protection of the ports.”
The Tripoli government, for its part, has said that it will agree to a ceasefire only if Haftar returned back East. Meanwhile, forces loyal to the government have managed to keep the eastern offensive at bay. There has also been ongoing fighting in areas in and around the capital. This includes an abandoned airport about 11km from the center and a military camp in an eastern Tripoli suburb, which was the targeted by Haftar’s troops.
This weekend’s events mark the latest chapter in the chaos that has engulfed Libya since the fall Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. In the 8 years following his overthrow, the oil-rich African state has struggled to rebuild its institutions; the country has been without a single set of economic and political institutions across the country for four years. Libya’s UN-backed General National Congress (GNC) came to power 2012 but faced immediate challenges, including the 2012 Benghazi terror attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. consulate that was part of a larger issue having to do with the growing presence of terror groups like the Islamic State North Africa. Interestingly, the general who was involved in the military campaigns against these militant groups across eastern Libya, including in Benghazi, is none other than Khalifa Haftar himself. Haftar, it is worth pointing out, was the former general of Gaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him.
As for the broader battle for control over the Libyan territory itself, much of the fighting and politicking crosses (mostly) tribal, political and religious lines. The fragmented nature of the country’s politics has made it difficult for the competing factions to cross the divide that exists between them. There is no doubt that a bridging of said divide (and good faith on all sides) would it make easier for local and international partners to create a unified government to fight for the collective interests of the Libyan people.
However, continued factionalism has created a fertile ground for military offensives like the one led by Haftar, whose advance towards Tripoli has continued despite the repeated calls of the European Union and the United Nations to end the violence.
The UN, which had been planning to hold a national conference this month to prepare for national elections, was caught off balance by the military offensive. An offensive that will most likely ruin the organization’s peace plan for Libya, brining with it a steep humanitarian cost as well. So far, 17 civilians have been killed and another 13,000 have been forced out of their homes. This in a country that already has an estimated 193,600 displaced people.
All of this is taking place despite the existence of a 2015 UN-mediated deal which was meant to address the chaos that has characterized modern-day Libya. If only it had been implemented, of course. The deal, which established the country’s Presidency Council and Tripoli-based interim government, was almost immediately hindered by claims of illegitimacy by competing political forces, such as Haftar’s LNA. Despite this, the rivals appeared to be heading down the path towards reconciliation when Prime Minister al-Sarraj and General Haftar agreed to a ceasefire agreement and to hold elections in 2018. Yet, since then Libya has remained deeply divided and has failed to implement the agreement. As demonstrated by the latest round of fighting, the apparent inability (or unwillingness) of the rival centers of power to set aside their differences has further diminished their chances of achieving economic development, political stability and sustainable peace for the Libyan people.