Libya: Pro-Haftar militia forces reach outskirts of Tripoli

TRIPOLI� Forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar reached a security barrier within 30 kilometres from the

capital Tripoli late Thursday, as world powers warned of consequences for military action.

General Abdessalem al-Hassi, head of operations for Haftar's self-

proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) in the eastern region, said his forces had seized the roadblock without any fighting.

Haftar's forces announced Wednesday they were gearing up for an offensive in the west of the country to purge it of terrorists and mercenaries, having seized key areas of the country's south since the start of the year.

Dozens of uniformed men and a least 15 trucks carrying anti-aircraft guns

took up positions at the control point known as Bridge 27, just 27

kilometres from Tripoli, the seat of the internationally-recognised unity government.

Meanwhile, fighters from the Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of

militias from the capital city, announced on Facebook that they had launched an operation to stop the LNA advance, without giving details.

Unity government chief Fayez al-Sarraj earlier condemned Haftar's

escalation and said he had ordered loyalist forces to prepare to face all


The time has come, Haftar said in an audio message released Thursday by

his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, pledging to spare civilians and

state institutions.

Dozens of militias have fought for control of the North African country

since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer

Kadhafi in 2011.

Haftar's forces have emerged as a key player, opposing the government in

Tripoli and backing a parallel administration in the east.

On Thursday evening LNA spokesman Ahmed Mesmari announced that the force was at the gates of the capital.

Unity government chief Fayez al-Sarraj earlier condemned Haftar's

escalation and said he had ordered loyalist forces to prepare to face all


His interior ministry announced a state of maximum alert and powerful

armed groups from Libya's western city of Misrata said they were ready to

halt Haftar's advance.

A convoy of vehicles from Haftar's forces on Thursday pushed towards the

city of Gharyan, some 100 kilometres from Tripoli, witnesses and

military sources said.

Commander Abdessalem Al-Hassi said Thursday that his forces had entered

into the city without a fight.

But at least four sources in the city denied this, and a Gharyan official

said there were ongoing efforts to avoid a confrontation between rival

fighters who divide the city.

Haftar has repeatedly expressed his intention to march on Tripoli.

His forces in January launched an offensive from his eastern strongholds

into oil-rich southern Libya, ostensibly aimed at wiping out terrorists and

criminal groups.

The latest rise in tensions came as United Nations chief Antonio Guterres

visited Tripoli ahead of a planned conference later this month to hammer out a roadmap for delayed parliamentary and presidential elections.

I am deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and

the risk of confrontation, Guterres tweeted.

The United States and its allies issued a joint statement urging all

parties to immediately de-escalate tensions.

Our governments oppose any military action in Libya and will hold

accountable any Libyan faction that precipitates further civil conflict,

said the US, France, Britain, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

At this sensitive moment in Libya's transition, military posturing and

threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos.

The European Union warned that the military buildup underway in Libya and the escalatory rhetoric seriously risks leading to an uncontrollable


The UN Security Council will meet behind closed doors on Friday to discuss

Libya, at Britain's request, diplomats said.

Russia, which has courted Haftar, meanwhile called for a solution to

Libya's problems through political-diplomatic means.

Rival Libyan leaders had agreed in Paris last year to hold elections before

the end of the year, but that vote never materialised as Haftar's forces and

the Tripoli government grappled for power.

The UN said Haftar and Sarraj agreed at a meeting in Abu Dhabi last month

to make a new attempt to organise the elections.