Khalifa Haftar, rising power amid Libya's chaos

REUTERS  Philippe Wojazer  File

Libyan rebel groups plan to continue marching on Tripoli after government forces used airstrikes to repel the advance.

Clashes erupted at night in the western district of Qasr Bani Ghashir, close to Tripoli International airport, which was destroyed in 2014 fighting.

There was no immediate statement from the United Nations -backed government, the militias that support it, or the United Nations. There is also a chance that certain members of the worldwide community could step in militarily with airpower in an attempt to repulse Hafter's assault, but that could spark a major global crisis considering the various parties involved and their conflicting interests.

Libya's rival leaders, GNA's Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and Haftar, agreed in Paris last year to hold elections before the end of the year, but that vote never materialized as the two rival administrations and numerous militias grapple for power.

A renegade militia seeking to storm its way into Libya's capital battled for control of the global airport Saturday in a showdown that threatened to spill into bloody urban combat in the streets of Tripoli.

"I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli", Guterres tweeted. The UN chief was in Tripoli to help organise a national conference of reconciliation.

A G7 communique said that "we recall that Libya's oil facilities, production, and revenues belong to the Libyan people, and must not be used by any party for political gain".

The lightening assault was ordered as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Libya for a visit aimed at cementing a political deal on holding elections.

The worrisome development was discussed on Friday by the UN Security Council, which called on the LNA to halt its maneuvers and refrain from further military action. "The situation is very worrying and we can not accept a further military escalation", Maas said after a ministerial meeting held in the French seaside resort of Dinard. "There can be no military solution to the conflict", he said.

Militiamen from the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, retook the base after a "short exchange of fire", the source said on condition of anonymity.

Traffic was flowing normally past the checkpoint on Friday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

Recently they have been allying either with the UN-backed GNA, based in Tripoli, or the LNA of Gen Haftar, a tough anti-Islamist who has the support of Egypt and the UAE and is strong in eastern Libya.

Dozens of them were captured and their vehicles seized, the security source said.

Libyan militia commander General Khalifa Hifter in 2017. Others regard him as a dictator in the making.

"We were stabbed in the back", he said Saturday in televised comments, adding that his forces would confront Hifter's troops with "force and determination".

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