Eastern Libyan forces mounted an air strike on Sirte held by the internationally recognised government, an official and residents said, widening a conflict around Tripoli.
Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force has been trying since April to take Tripoli, held by the internationally recognised government, with a ground campaign supported by air strikes.
The campaign displaced more than 120,000 in Tripoli, killed hundreds and risks disrupting oil supplies from the country in chaos.
There have been LNA-claimed strikes in recent days on Sirte, 450km east of Tripoli, but mainly on the outskirts, residents said.
Haftar, allied to an eastern parallel administration, might be trying to shift the frontline away from Tripoli where he has been unable to breach the city’s defences and lost his main forward base in Gharyan, said Emad Badi.
This would pre-empt attacks on the main LNA supply base in Jufra which Tripoli forces attacked by air, said Badi, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.
The Sirte strike hit a building near a feedstock plant where a local force securing the city is based, which an LNA official said was targeted.
The Tripoli-based government said on Facebook drones operated by the United Arab Emirates carried out strikes against positions of a force allied to it.
The UAE backs the LNA alongside Egypt, according to UN reports but neither country confirms. Turkey backs the Tripoli forces.
Mitiga airport, the only working one in Tripoli, was targeted on Monday, an eastern military source told Reuters. It was closed for two weeks due to continued air strikes.
Haftar and his backers are trying to free the capital from armed groups they blame for destabilising Libya since the fall of Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising.
Haftar’s critics accuse him of trying to seize power through a military coup, deepening a conflict between factions in the east and west of the country.
Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, was a stronghold for Islamic State militants until Tripoli forces backed by US air strikes expelled the group in December 2016.
The coastal city is at the unofficial border of areas of influence of Tripoli forces in western Libya and the LNA controlling the east.
Air strikes increased as both sides try to gain territory ahead of a conference Germany is planning to bring the main foreign powers active in Libya together.