ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – By Janet Ekstract –
Tripoli is under seige by pro-Haftar forces despite previous attempts at a lasting ceasefire in Libya. Attacks on civilian neighborhoods are increasing with the United Nations Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) reporting a recent spike in abductions and enforced disappearances led by armed groups across towns and cities in Libya. Former Gaddafi general and renegade warlord Khalifa Haftar has stepped up attacks on Libya’s capital – the latest on Thursday March 19 after two days of consecutive heavy fighting that began on Wednesday March 18. Attacks occured at Salah Al-Deen, Ain Zara and Airport Road where Haftar forces gained some advances in the early morning on March 18. Violence broke out in Ramla axis in southern Tripoli when the GNA began reinforcing their forces in the area, a spokesman for the GNA reported.
Meanwhile, Haftar’s forces are continuing to try and take Ain Zara where heavy fighting began on Wednesday. According to the Volcano of Rage Operation in Libya, they pushed back on attacks by Haftar forces on the Ain Zara frontline explaining that the majority of Haftar’s force is comprised of mercenaries. Mohammed Gununu, spokesman for the Libyan Army affiliated with the GNA, said his army is constantly pushing back against repeated ceasefire violations by Haftar forces on Ain Zara.
On Wednesday, Haftar’s forces fired a number of rockets on different Tripoli neighborhoods and homes in Abu Salim, Al-Hadba, Ain Zara and Ras Hassan in downtown Tripoli for the first time since April 2019. Sources report that for the last three days, Haftar’s forces have been attempting to control Al-Sawani and Al-Zahrea areas to disconnect Tripoli from the western mountain region.
On Thursday, March 19, Gununu said their forces had managed to repel Haftar’s forces. Gununu said: “Four females were killed and other persons were injured on Wednesday due to Haftar’s blind rockets, which also forced many people to flee their houses, especially in Ain Zara.”
Earlier this week, the EU and several Arab countries had called on both sides in the Libyan conflict to immediately halt hostilities and issue a humanitarian ceasefire in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Gununu said the GNA accepts the ceasefire to assist in efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak and said the Libyan Army previously did so out of humanitarian necessity. Gununu did reiterate that “invading and mercenary fighters” will be swiftly dealt with should they violate the ceasefire.
On Thursday, UNSMIL urged Haftar forces to join the Libyan Presidential Council in accepting the call by the international community for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds to allow health officials to assist with the situation on the ground amid the coronavirus pandemic. The organization lauded the GNA’s response to the ceasefire and called on all parties to halt fighting and join forces to protect Libyans from the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, the UN mission is pinning its hopes on a humanitarian truce which both partıes committed to in Geneva on February 23, in a framework of the 5+5 intra-Libyan Joint Military Commission. The Berlin Conference that took place on January 19 was the first step in the process to seek a political solution in Libya. Since then Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame resigned suddenly in early March and the path to a lasting ceasefire has been wrought with multiple violations by Haftar and his militias.