Libyan Militias Vow to Stop Rival Commander's Move on Tripoli

Escalation puts upcoming UN-brokered peace talks at risk, raising prospect of renewed civil war

A screenshot of a video from the LNA War Information Division's Facebook page published on April 3, 2019 allegedly shows military convoys heading toward western Libya.
AFP

Libyan militias in the country's west are vowing to confront a rival army commander's attempt to seize the capital, Tripoli, raising the prospect of renewed civil war.

The advancing forces of Khalifa Hifter, who runs the self-styled Libya National Army based in the country's east, have sparked fears of a major showdown with the militias that control Tripoli, the capital of the UN-backed government.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

The militias from the western cities of Zawiya and Misarata posted on social media early on Friday that they're mobilizing to confront Hifter, hours after he ordered his fighters to march on Tripoli

They posted: "We are the revolutionaries and the elders ... we declare we are on full mobilization and war."

Hifter's order, which was posted in an audio recording online, came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the North African country and expressed fears of new confrontations. It put at risk upcoming peace talks brokered by the UN aimed at drawing a roadmap for new elections.

On Thursday, Hifter's troops captured the town of Gharyan, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Tripoli without a fight, putting them closer to the militias than ever before.

Hifter's spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said later the army's next stop would be the town of al-Aziziya, considered the gates of Tripoli.

Guterres is the second UN chief to visit Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Ban Ki-moon visited in October 2014. Libya, the oil-rich North African country, fell in series of civil wars in different towns and cities, where heavily armed militias fought over power and oil.

Guterres appealed for "military and political and verbal de-escalation — and the recognition that ... there is no military solution for the problems in Libya."

"My aim remains the same: avoid a military confrontation," he said Friday on Twitter. "I reiterate that there is no military solution for the Libyan crisis, only a political one."

The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency closed-door meeting on Friday afternoon at Britain's request to discuss the unfolding developments.

The Kremlin said it was not helping Libyan military forces loyal to Haftar push westward and that it supported a negotiated political settlement to Libya's problems that ruled out any new bloodshed. 

"We are closely following the situation in Libya," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "Of course we consider that the most important thing is that (military) operations there do not lead to bloodshed. The situation should be resolved peacefully."

Asked if Moscow was backing Haftar's new westwards push, Peskov said it wasn't and was not involved in current events. 

Hifter is allied with the east-based administration at odds with the UN-backed government based in Tripoli. Alongside the two rival administrations, mostly Islamic militias wield considerable influence and control large swathes of territory in the vast North African nation.

Reuters contributed to this report.