CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s U.N.-supported government said its forces took back several districts on Friday in Tripoli’s southern reaches that had been captured by their rivals in a year-long offensive on the country's capital.
The development dims the prospects for the eastern-based forces, under the command of Khalifa Hifter, to capture the Libyan capital. The advances of Tripoli-allied militias capped a disastrous week for the eastern forces, which were ousted from their only western airbase and several strategic towns recently.
Mustafa al-Mujie, a spokesman for the western, Tripoli forces said they took a military camp and the southern suburb of Salah el-Din, and were pushing further into other contested districts of Mashrou and Ain Zara, he added.
Turkish air power and troops have helped turn the tide in the battle for Tripoli, which Hifter’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces have been assaulting for the past 14 months. When their offensive, backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, stalled in recent months, Turkey apparently saw an opportunity to escalate its involvement, sending drones, military experts and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
Following the loss of al-Waitya airbase, Ahmed al-Mosmari, spokesman of Hifter's forces, announced their fighters would withdraw up to 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Tripoli’s front lines in a “humanitarian gesture” for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan this weekend.
Calls for a cease-fire were swiftly dismissed by Tripoli officials.
“Retreats and defeats cannot be disguised as a ‘humanitarian’ gesture by people who haven’t shown an ounce of concern for the civilians,” Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said Thursday.
Al-Mujie, the Tripoli spokesman, told The Associated Press that Hifter’s forces had not completely pulled out of the area. “There are many neighborhoods in which they are still present,” he said.
In a call Friday with the Tripoli government’s Prime Minister, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “emphasized the importance of an immediate halt to the fighting and return to political dialogue,” according to the State Department.
Pompeo also condemned the continuous flow of foreign weapons into the country in violation of a long-standing U.N. arms embargo.