Airstrikes hit Tripoli as Libyan warlord steps up offensive against government

Peter Stubley
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Airstrikes hit Tripoli as Libyan warlord steps up offensive against government

The Libyan capital Tripoli was rocked by airstrikes overnight as a rebel warlord stepped up his two-week offensive on the government-held city.

Explosions shook the area after residents spotted an aircraft or unmanned drone circling for more than 10 minutes before opening fire on a southern suburb.

Several missile strikes appeared to hit a military camp in the Sabaa district on Saturday night, according to witnesses.

Tripoli’s only functioning airport was closed for several hours before reopening.

The offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar began two weeks ago but so far has been unable to breach the government’s southern defences.

So far Mr Haftar’s forces have mainly used Soviet-made jets left over from the air force of former president Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled in 2011.

However residents of Tripoli have reported drone strikes over the past week. If confirmed this would point to more sophisticated warfare by the rebel group, which is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The offensive appeared to intensify after it emerged that US president Donald Trump had effectively endorsed Mr Haftar during a phone call last week.

Mr Trump praised Mr Haftar’s “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” and discussed “a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” according to the White House.

The US leader did not speak to Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Serraj​, the head of the UN-backed, internationally-recognised government in Tripoli.

​Both the US and Russia have said they could not supported a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Two children were killed in the shelling on Friday, bringing the death toll to 220, with another 1,066 wounded, according to the World Health Organisation.

On Saturday the LNA and government forces both claimed progress in fighting in southern Tripoli on Saturday but reporters saw no apparent change in the frontline in outskirts of the city.

Pope Francis called on the rival leaders to bring the conflict to an end while making his traditional Easter Sunday speech. “I urge the parties involved to choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability,” he said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press