Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognised government advanced Tarhouna, a key support base of eastern-based rival Khalifa Haftar, at the weekend.
The advance comes days after forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) pushed back Haftar allies west of the capital, marking a possible turning point in an attempt to fend off a year-long offensive by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Tarhouna, southeast of Tripoli, was a crucial asset for the LNA, providing local manpower for a campaign that leaned heavily on air support from the United Arab Emirates and Russian military contractors.
GNA attempts to swing Tarhouna to its side failed. The GNA depends on military support including drone strikes provided by Turkey, which stepped up involvement in Libya’s conflict this year.
A witness from Tarhouna said residents heard loud blasts on Saturday, followed by intensive clashes in an outlying area of the town continuing for six hours.
LNA officials told Reuters GNA forces failed to enter the town and the offensive, the first since Haftar launched his military bid for Tripoli, was repelled. They said a drone was shot down.
LNA forces control eastern and southern Libya and have been positioned on the outskirts of Tripoli for a year. The capital saw heavy bombardment in recently and shelling continued on Saturday, wounding 10 civilians, local medics said.
The GNA has been trying to capture al-Watiya air base, south-west of Tripoli and the LNA’s other strategic foothold in the area.
Libya is struggling to prepare for the expected spread of coronavirus and the GNA on Friday imposed a 24-hour curfew in western regions it controls for 10 days. Libya has confirmed 49 cases, including one death.