East Libya forces push Tripoli offensive


Forces in East Libya led by Khalifa Haftar they will not let up their military campaign against rival factions in Tripoli, appearing to reject a call by Russia and Turkey for a ceasefire.

A statement from Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) welcomed Russia’s bid “to seek peace and stability in Libya”, but affirmed “the continuation of efforts of the armed forces in their war against terrorist groups which control the capital Tripoli”.

A high-level source close to the LNA, who asked not to be identified, described the statement as a “conditional acceptance” of Russia and Turkey’s call on Wednesday for a ceasefire to start on January 12.

Haftar’s forces began an offensive to take control of Tripoli in April stalled on the city’s outskirts. The LNA gained an advantage in recent weeks as fighting intensified and it seized the coastal city Sirte on Monday.

Libya has been divided into rival camps based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, each with their own institutions.

Haftar’s offensive upended a UN-led peace push and reignited a conflict that fuelled migrant smuggling to Europe, gave space to Islamist militants and disrupted oil supplies.

Russia and Turkey are increasingly involved in Libya’s conflict, with Turkey backing the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the armed factions supporting it. Turkey’s parliament voted last week to allow a troop deployment to the North African country.

Russia largely backs Haftar, while maintaining relations with the GNA.

In recent months Russian military contractors deployed alongside the LNA, which received air support from the United Arab Emirates and backing from Jordan and Egypt, according to UN experts and diplomats.

The GNA welcomes any serious call for a return to the political process.

“The GNA urgently wants to restore peace, and until that is possible we will exercise our lawful right to enter into military alliances and defend our country from attack,” senior GNA adviser Mohammed Ali Abdallah said in a statement.

The GNA “welcomes any credible ceasefire proposal, but we have a duty to protect the Libyan people” from Haftar’s offensive, he said.