Eastern forces ‘take control’ of village south of Tripoli after clashes

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Eastern forces allied to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar took control on Friday of the village of Suq al-Khamis some 40 km south of Tripoli, a resident and an eastern military source said.

The capture came after clashes with forces allied to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, they said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres met Haftar in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, an official from his forces said, a day after his fighters launched an offensive against the capital Tripoli.

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Guterres said he was leaving Libya with a “heavy heart” and was deeply concerned, after his meeting with Haftar. “I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli,” Guterres tweeted. “The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people.”

Earlier, the UN chief had tweeted his aim to “avoid a military confrontation” in Libya.

Ultimate prize

Tripoli is the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government. In 2014 he assembled former Gaddafi soldiers and in a three-year battle seized the main eastern city of Benghazi, then this year took the south with its oilfields.

The escalation surprised the United Nations. Guterres had been in the capital this week to help organize a national reconciliation conference planned for later this month.

But on Thursday, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces took Gharyan, about 80 km south of Tripoli after skirmishes with forces allied to Tripoli-based, UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.

But they failed to take a checkpoint about 30 km west of the capital in a bid to close the coastal road to Tunisia. An LNA-allied militia withdrew overnight from so-called Gate 27, leaving it abandoned in the morning, a Reuters reporter said.

In another setback, forces allied to Tripoli took 145 LNA fighters prisoner in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, a western commander, Mohamed Alhudair, told Reuters. An LNA source confirmed 128 had been captured.

Sixty vehicles had also been seized, Alhudairi said.

Meanwhile armed groups allied to the UN-backed Tripoli government moved more machinegun-mounted pickups from the coastal city of Misrata to Tripoli to defend it against Haftar’s forces.

(With Reuters, AFP)