Libya near civil war, U.S. voices concern

A rocket attack in Benghazi wounds 20, a day after militias flowed into Tripoli to protect the parliament against Haftar's offensive

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Libya remained on the brink of civil war Friday amid a lingering standoff between forces loyal to a renegade general vowing to eradicate extremist elements in the North African country and militias backing the Islamist-dominated parliament in the capital Tripoli.

The escalating violence that threatens to further split the country drew calls for a political solution from the United States and European countries.

On Thursday, Islamist-led militias flowed into the capital to protect the parliament against the offensive launched last week by renegade General Khalifa Haftar. The move came only days after gunmen loyal to Haftar stormed the parliament demanding its suspension.

Haftar is demanding that the government hand power to the country’s top judges and called for the formation of a Presidential Council to take over from parliament, oversee elections and hand power after a nationwide vote to a new legislature.

Libya’s government warned Thursday that the deployment of Islamist militias to safeguard the parliament only jeopardized the safety of citizens.

"The government has noticed ... the entry of a... force which does not belong to the government, the Central Shield," Culture Minister Habib Lamin told reporters.

"This threatens the security of residents in Tripoli," he said. "We have a critical and dangerous situation."

Libya’s Central Shield militia were seen by residents Thursday as they took position among army stations near the airport highway in Tripoli’s south, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

The government has urged all militias to withdraw from the capital and stay out of politics.

Meanwhile in Libya’s second city of Benghazi, more than a dozen members of a single family were wounded overnight in a rocket attack near an army base that backs Haftar.

Agence France Presse quoted medical sources as saying that 20 members of a single family suffered shrapnel wounds when the rocket hit their home in the central Abuhdima neighborhood.

Haftar launched an assault on Islamists in the city last Friday in which at least 79 people were killed.

That prompted the government in Tripoli to brand him an outlaw and claim he was attempting a coup, but Haftar says he is on a mission to rid Libya of "terrorists" and insists he has no interest in power.

Haftar claims the government lost legitimacy after it failed to eradicate extremists gaining control across the country since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi.

Haftar's military campaign, "Operation Dignity,” has won the support of many government officials and military units.

In Tripoli Friday, thousands of Libyans held a rally in support of the rogue general’s objectives.

Meanwhile, the American Embassy and European diplomatic missions in Tripoli expressed concern over the escalating violence in Libya.

The United States, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom urged for a political solution to the confrontation in a joint statement published Friday on the American Embassy's website.

The statement said all sides should "address differences by political means" and "refrain from the use of force."

It also urged Libya to hold parliamentary elections "as soon as possible."

(With AFP, AP)

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