Two months ago Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognised government. The UN says more than 600 people have been killed and 3,200 others wounded in the fighting, which has forced 80,000 people to flee their homes.
In an online message launching the campaign by his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) to take over Tripoli, Haftar says on April 4: “The time has come.” His forces claim they are acting against “terrorists and mercenaries”.
The retired general, who has set up a parallel administration in eastern Libya and controls major oil fields, refuses to recognise a Government of National Accord (GNA) meant to end years of chaos since the killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
As Haftar’s forces begin their advance, the Tripoli-based GNA announces a “state of maximum alert”. Its chief, Fayez al-Sarraj, orders loyalist forces to prepare to “face all threats”. Haftar’s forces briefly seize Tripoli’s international airport, unused since it was destroyed in fighting in 2014, but are pushed back on April 5.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres meets Sarraj and Haftar, saying afterwards he is “deeply concerned”.
On April 6, forces backing the GNA launch the first air strikes on LNA positions around 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Tripoli. The next day Haftar’s forces say they carried out their first air strike on a Tripoli suburb.
Pro-GNA forces announce a counteroffensive called “Volcano of Anger”. On April 8, LNA warplanes carry out an air strike against Tripoli’s only functioning airport, Mitiga. The LNA accuses the unity government of “allying itself with Islamist militias”.
Rockets hit central Tripoli late on April 16, for the first time since the offensive was launched and killing six people. The LNA is blamed. On April 18, the UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame warns of “a widening conflagration”.
On April 19, the White House reveals that the US president spoke with Haftar by phone and recognised his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”. Clashes south of Tripoli intensify.
On April 24, Sarraj accuses France of backing Haftar, saying its support prompted him to move on Tripoli and abandon a political solution. France rejects the accusations. On May 7, a report to the UN Security Council says experts believe that missiles used by the LNA or its allies may have been supplied by the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are seen as Haftar’s key supporters. Haftar visits Egypt on May 9 for the second time since his offensive began. Sarraj meanwhile tours Europe to shore up support. On May 18, the GNA boasts of new weapons despite an arms embargo on the country. It does not detail where they have come from. Haftar accuses Turkey and Qatar of supplying weapons to his rival.
On May 21, violent clashes rage south of the Tripoli in the most intense fighting since May 6, just as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began. The UN envoy, Salame, warns the Security Council that without immediate action by the international community “Libya will descend into a civil war which could potentially lead to a partition of the country”.
On May 22, Haftar rejects a ceasefire requested by French President Emmanuel Macron, saying the conditions for halting hostilities “were not met”. The following day Salame slams “foreign interference” in the conflict, saying between “six and 10 countries” are funnelling arms, cash and military advice to Libya.
On May 26, Haftar says his troops will continue their offensive until militias in Tripoli lay down their arms. He also takes aim at Salame, saying he has become a “biased” mediator.
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