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POST TIME: 20 April, 2019 09:12:51 PM
Libya clashes intensify as GNA launch counter-attack
Trump speaks to insurgent General Haftar
AFP, BBC, Tripoli, London

Libya clashes intensify as GNA launch counter-attack

Forces loyal to Libya’s unity government said Saturday they have launched a counter-attack against strongman Khalifa Haftar’s fighters just south of the capital Tripoli.

“We have launched a new phase of attack. Orders were given early this morning to advance and gain ground,” said Mustafa al-Mejii, a spokesman for the military operation of the Government of National Accord.

Haftar launched an offensive on April 4 against Tripoli, where the UN-recognised GNA is based.

Meanwhile, the White House says President Trump has spoken to Libyan eastern commander General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are attacking the capital Tripoli.

During Monday’s call, Mr Trump recognised Gen Haftar’s efforts to combat terrorism and secure Libya’s oil and they discussed Libya’s future. Tripoli is the seat of Libya’s UN-backed and internationally recognised government.

Mr Trump’s call suggests he endorses Gen Haftar, unlike some of his allies.

More than 200 people have been killed since the fighting began three weeks ago.

On Thursday the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj condemned the “silence” of his international allies amid the assault by Gen Haftar’s forces.

Libya has been torn by violence and political instability since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

The latest crisis started three weeks ago, when Gen Haftar’s eastern forces descended on the capital in what Mr Serraj has described as an attempted coup.

Gen Haftar’s troops are advancing from various directions on the outskirts of the city and say they have seized Tripoli’s international airport.

During Mr Trump’s conversation with Gen Haftar, the pair “discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system”, the White House says.

The BBC’s Middle East Regional Editor Alan Johnston says the call seems to signal that Washington is swinging its weight behind Gen Haftar and may see him as being capable of restoring unity and order to the country.

But Gen Haftar’s opponents say he would rule the country in a highly autocratic style, our correspondent adds.

The US, along with Russia, has also refused to support a UK-drafted UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya.    

Russia objected to wording blaming Gen Haftar for the violence while the US did not give a reason, Reuters reported.

Gen Haftar has had backing from the UAE and Egypt and visited Saudi Arabia shortly before announcing his attack on Tripoli.

The UN-backed government in Tripoli has also accused France of supporting Gen Haftar. France has denied this.