Thursday, 2/7/2020 | 6:31 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Libya: Thousands flee Tripoli as battle rages on outskirts

TRIPOLI � Rebel eastern forces and troops loyal to the internationally-recognised Tripoli government fought on the outskirts of Libya's capital on Wednesday as thousands of residents fled from the battle.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar held positions in the suburbs about 11 km south of the center, with steel containers and pickups with mounted machine-guns blocking their way into the city.

Residents reported LNA planes buzzing Tripoli and the sound of clashes in outskirts. Haftar's forces were engaging Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj's fighters at the former international airport.

The United Nations said at least 4,500 Tripoli residents had been displaced, most moving away from their homes in conflict areas to safer districts of the city. Many more were trapped, it said.

The LNA forces moved out of their stronghold in east Libya to take the sparsely-populated but oil-rich south earlier this year, before heading a week ago toward Tripoli, where the internationally-recognized government of sits.

Libya has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since the 2011 topping of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. He ruled for more than four decades before falling in a Western-backed revolt.

The United Nations wants to bring both sides together to plan an election and way out of the chaos.

Its humanitarian agency the OCHA said it was extremely concerned about the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in densely-populated areas.

Half a million children were at risk, it added.

As well as the humanitarian consequences, renewed conflict in Libya threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper the U.N. peace plan, and encourage militants to exploit the chaos.

In Tripoli, nearly 50 people have died, mainly fighters but also some civilians including two doctors, according to latest U.N. casualty estimates. The toll is expected to rise.

Several thousand migrants, detained after trying to use Libya as a staging-point for crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, have also been caught up in the crisis.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday it had relocated more than 150 of them � among several thousand in total � from one detention center in south Tripoli to a facility of its own in a safe zone.

One official at that detention center said he flung open the doors on Wednesday and released another 150 migrants for their own safety due to the proximity of clashes.

The United Nations, United States, European Union and G7 bloc have appealed for a ceasefire, a return to the U.N. peace plan, and a halt to Haftar's push.

In BRUSSELS, France and Italy are divided over policy toward Libya despite the official position of EU unity stated by the bloc's foreign policy chief, the head of the European Parliament said.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who is Italian, urged EU countries to speak with a single voice on the renewed crisis in Libya.

He also mentioned the role of France and Britain in the overthrow of Libya's former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, a move he said was a mistake that had generated chaos.

We need more unity, we need to speak with only one voice as Europeans, but unfortunately Europeans are divided on this, he told reporters.

But France and Italy both had diverging interests, Tajani he said.

France, which has oil assets in eastern Libya, has provided military assistance in past years to Khalifa Haftar in his eastern stronghold, Libyan and French officials say. .

Italy, the former colonial power and a big player in Libya's oil sector, has supported the U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday the bloc was united in calling for a truce and a return to diplomacy.