Tag Archives: Hifter

Amidst Mass Evacuations, Libya Calls for Aid as Oil Depot Fires Rage at Tripoli International Airport

Posted on in Libya, Terrorism title_rule

29 July – A raging fire has broken out at Tripoli International Airport after continued battles between rival militias. On Monday, an oil depot was struck in the crossfire between the warring groups, causing the depot to catch fire and rage out of control. By Monday afternoon, the blaze had spread to a second depot. According to a spokesman from the Libyan National Oil company, the depot has a six-million litre capacity.

While fire trucks from nearby cities have rushed to Tripoli,  Libya’s interim government has appealed for international help to extinguish the fire, fearing it could become a “humanitarian and environmental disaster”. The government has also called upon “all concerned parties to immediately stop firing as the situation has become very grave.” Residents within a five-kilometre radius of the airport have been ordered to evacuate.

The fighting began nearly two weeks earlier, when Islamist militias from Misrata launched a surprise assault on the airport, which is under the control of the liberal Zintan militia. The Zintan militia is one of the largest and most disciplined militia groups in Libya, and has recently allied itself with “rogue” General Khalifa Hifter, a former member of the Gadhafi regime that returned to Libya after the dictator was toppled. Hifter has been conducting an offensive against Islamist militias, mainly in Benghazi, since May.

In Benghazi, clashes between Hifter’s forces and Islamist militias raged throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning, hitting civilian homes and causing a number of casualties and injuries. Officials from Hifter’s forces have stated that four camps captured by the militias were regained in a siege that killed eight militants. Among the militants was Ahmed al-Zahawi, whose brother, Mohammed al-Zahawi, is the leader of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia. It is believed that Ansar al-Sharia was behind the 2012 attacks on the US embassy in Benghazi that left four dead, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.

As fighting between the groups in Benghazi and Tripoli has escalated, the several nations have warned their citizens to leave. In mid-July, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) evacuated all remaining staff. On Sunday, the French Foreign Ministry called on all French nationals to leave the war-torn nation. The same day, gunmen fired on a convoy of British Embassy staff, in what Libyan investigators believe was an attempted carjacking. No casualties or injuries were reported, however the UK foreign office has advised all citizens to leave the nation immediately, warning of the likelihood of further attacks on foreign nationals. Similar warnings have been issued by the Dutch, Turkish, German, Indian, Spanish and Italian governments. The Canadian government urged citizens to avoid or leave Libya, and announced that while the consulate is open, consular services are “extremely limited due to continuing political instability and violence.” Egypt has warned all Egyptian nationals to evacuate Tripoli and Benghazi.

Despite the warnings, however, exiting the country has become difficult with the closure of Tripoli International Airport. The airport was shut down on 14 July after intense fighting between the Zintan and Misrata-based Islamist militias. The Islamist groups fired dozens of Grad rockets, and used anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weaponry to target the airport. Reports indicate that up to 90% of the aircraft on the ground were destroyed, along with the airport control tower. A hall used for customs was also hit. Last week, the Libyan Civil Aviation Ministry announced that Al Afriqiya, Tunisair, and Libyan Airlines have resumed limited air operations from Tripoli-based Mitiga airport, as well as Misrata airport, nearly 200 km east of the capital. However, the recommended method of evacuation has been “small batch” exits through checkpoints on Libya’s western border with Tunisia, or through eastern checkpoints into Egypt.

In mid-July, a spokesperson for the Libyan government, Ahmed Lamine, said that the government is “looking into the possibility of making an appeal for international forces on the ground to re-establish security and help the government impose its authority”. The Libyan government is now calling for aid in extinguishing the intense oil depot fires, but sources indicate that the government has made an appeal for international forces to aid in the protection of civilians, prevent anarchy, and allow the government to build up its army and police.

Nations neighbouring Libya, including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia, met for a ministerial conference on the Libyan issue on 14 July in Tunisia. The group discussed the dual goals of brokering talks aimed at eliminating the terrorist threat in Libya and preventing violence from reaching their borders. As nations and NGOs evacuate citizens and staff, it is uncertain who will come to Libya’s aid as they step ever closer toward becoming a failed state.

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Renegade General Shuts Down Libyan Parliament

Posted on in Libya title_rule

On Sunday May 18, armed gunmen loyal to renegade General Khalifa Hifter stormed Libya’s parliament and announced its suspension. In a televised statement, Colonel Muktar Fernana said, “We, members of the army and revolutionaries, announce the suspension of the General National Congress,” adding that the assembly will be replaced by the 60-member body that was recently elected to rewrite Libya’s constitution. The group then withdrew toward Tripoli’s airport on the southern edges of the city, clashing with rivals and leaving at least 66 dead. By Monday morning, fighting stopped.

Two days prior to the storming of the parliament building, Hifter’s group, using military aircraft and helicopters, targeted armed extremist militias in Benghazi. By Saturday, hundreds of residents fled their homes as clashes escalated. A spokesman for Hifter urged residents in the Benghazi districts of Al-Qawarshah, Sidi Faraj and Al-Hawari to leave their homes for their own safety. In the aftermath, the Libyan Ministry of Health said 70 people had been killed and 141 wounded.

The effort is part of Hifter’s plan, Operation “Dignity of Libya”, which calls for a large-scale campaign targeting militias and suspected extremists in Benghazi. Hifter told a local TV station, “The operation will continue until Benghazi has been cleansed of terrorists.”

Authorities have ordered Hifter to stand down, and consider his actions to be tantamount to a coup. Earlier this year, Hifter called for a military coup against Libya’s interim government but received little support. However, officers loyal to Hifter’s group, called the Libyan National Army (LNA), deny the claim because they do not believe the current Libyan parliament or their newest Prime Minister, Ahmed Maitiq, have legitimacy.

Hifter and the Libyan National Army

Hifter was an army commander under Gadhafi until the 1980s, when he defected and fled to the United States. He stayed in the US for over two decades, leading to accusations that his current actions are being supported, even bankrolled, by Washington. After the death of Gadhafi, the Libyan transitional government appointed Hifter to rebuild the Libyan military; however he was removed shortly after his appointment.

Hifter’s group, the LNA has been comprised mainly of irregular forces, however a number of Libyan army commanders have already defected to join Hifter’s troops. Last week, troops at a military air base in Tobruk reportedly joined Hifter’s forces, and on 19 May, the top commander of the Libyan elite al Saiqa Special Forces announced that his troops had joined forces with the LNA. Some battalions of the border guards have also declared for Hifter. The move is indicative of the rift in the military, with some being loyal to the interim government and others seeking a different solution.

In addition to military support, Hifter appears to have the support of one of the country’s most powerful militias from the western Zintan region. A number of tribes across the east and west have also formed an alliance with Hifter, as have separatists seeking more autonomy for eastern Libya  Hifter is seeking support from tribes in the centre and south of the nation in order to succeed in stopping extremists throughout the nation.

Anti-Hifter Response

In response to the attack on parliament, Libyan head of the legislature Nouri Abu Sahmein ordered the Libyan Army and pro-parliament militias to deploy in Tripoli to resist what he called “the attempt to wreck the path of democracy and take power.” The majority of these militias are based in Misrata. Online footage has depicted hundreds of pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, tanks and armoured vehicles making their way into the capital.

Also opposing Hifter are extremist groups, including the al-Qaeda inspired militant group, the Lions of Monotheism. In a video posted on extremist websites, a masked militant calling himself Abu Musab al-Arab, vowed to fight Hifter’s troops, saying, “You have entered a battle you will lose.” Some of the extremist groups Hifter is targeting, particularly Ansar al Sharia, are based in the east.

Warnings Issued

Following the fighting in Benghazi, Benina International Airport, 12 miles east of the city, has been shut down after unknown attackers fired rockets in the area. The head of the Libyan Army’s General Staff issued a ban on flights over the city on Saturday, saying any military aircraft would be fired on by Libyan army units and allied militia. All Egyptian and Tunisian flights to Benghazi have been suspended.

A number of foreign embassies in Tripoli have shut down, including those of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria. Algeria and Egypt have also closed their borders with Libya, and the Egyptian government is contemplating evacuating Egyptian citizens.

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