Fighting escalated on Sunday around Libyan capital Tripoli as a military assault on the city by the eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar led to 21 deaths and nearly 90 injuries, and international calls for calm were ignored.
The international airport south of central Tripoli was a scene of fierce battles after Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) claimed to have seized control of the area from the UN-backed government of national accord (GNA).
The death toll issued by the Tripoli authorities suggest Haftar’s hopes of a quick victory have been dashed. But Haftar appears intent on pressing ahead with a decisive battle that will endanger the chances of a UN-sponsored reconciliation between forces in the east and west of the country.
In a battle already marked by wildly conflicting claims, the LNA said the defenses of the Tripoli militia were surrendering, but a spokesman for pro-GNA forces announced a counter-offensive against Haftar’s forces.
The United States in the meantime said it is “deeply concerned” by fighting near Libya’s capital Tripoli and is seeking an “immediate halt” to an offensive by strongman Khalifa Haftar, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” he said in a statement.
“The United States continues to press Libyan leaders, together with our international partners, to return to political negotiations mediated by UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ghassan Salame,” he added.
Calls for sanctions to be taken against Haftar were heard for the first time, including from a former UK ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett.
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, will try to organise a united front at a meeting of the EU general affairs council on Monday. Tensions between Rome and Paris over the extent of Emmanuel Macron’s past support for Haftar have been simmering for months.