By Ismail Zitouny

A withering bombardment shook Tripoli on Sunday as the eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar fought overnight for new territory in the southern suburbs after losing ground recently around the city.

Adding to the misery of Tripoli residents, the main water supplier to northwest Libya said armed men in the south had stormed one of its facilities, reducing supply.

My father said we should be ready to leave at any moment … the fighting last night was heavier than at any time before,” said a resident of Abu Salim district, near a front line.

We would leave to survive, but where can we go? … we will be on the street. It’s hopeless,” the resident added by phone.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying to capture Tripoli for 13 months, but Turkish military aid this year for the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has helped it regain some ground.

The LNA, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, last week announced a new air campaign, but most bombardment since then has been through artillery.

Last month the pro-GNA forces recaptured a string of towns in the northwest from the LNA, re-establishing their control between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.

They have also made two attempts to seize the LNA’s strategic al-Watiya airbase, but have been repelled, and have moved toward the LNA’s main northwestern stronghold of Tarhouna.

An LNA military source said late on Saturday that the fighting was the fiercest so far. Eastern forces briefly took some ground in Abu Salim.

Tripoli residents described the bombardment as the worst so far after weeks of fighting as the GNA attempts to end Haftar’s campaign to seize the capital and push his forces out of artillery range.

Mitiga, the only functioning airport in the Libyan capital, was targeted by rockets for a second day after shelling on Saturday destroyed fuel tanks and sprayed shrapnel across a passenger jet being readied for take off.

LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters on Sunday that it was targeting the airport because Turkey was using it as a military base, something the GNA has denied.

The U.N. Libya mission condemned what it called “indiscriminate attacks,” which it said were mostly attributable to pro-LNA forces. It said last month that the LNA was responsible for four fifths of civilian deaths in the first quarter of 2020.

Mismari said the U.N. mission had overlooked GNA shelling of areas the LNA held.

Turkey said on Sunday it would regard Haftar’s forces as “legitimate targets” if attacks on its interests continued.

Water pressure in Tripoli was already starting to decline on Sunday afternoon after the Great Man-Made River Project, the main water utility, said one of its power stations in the south had been stormed by armed men.

Ahmed al-Deeb, head of its western region committee, said the men had switched off the electricity because of a shortage of cooking gas and a lack of cash in local banks, and that tribal elders were negotiating with them to restore power.

The state-run National Oil Corporation said last week it was carrying out work to supply cooking gas from the country’s main Sharara oil field.


Tripoli airport shelling hits fuel tanks, passenger plane-ministry

Shelling of Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital in recent days, hit fuel tanks and damaged passenger planes, the Transport Ministry said in a statement.

Mitiga is the last functioning airport in the Libyan capital, though civilian flights stopped in March because of repeated shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, part of the National Oil Corporation, said its jet fuel tanks at Mitiga caught fire after coming under attack and firemen were working to control the blaze.

The Transport Ministry, blaming eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar, said one of the damaged planes was preparing to fly to Spain to retrieve Libyans stranded in Europe by the coronavirus lockdown.

Video shared with Reuters by an airport worker showed plumes of black smoke billowing over the apron. Photographs showed shrapnel damage sprayed across the nose of a passenger plane.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), with frequent shelling of the capital.

According to the United Nations, four fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of the year were caused by LNA ground fighting.

Late on Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli was shelled, leading the European Union to condemn the incident, which it said was “attributal to Haftar’s forces”.

LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari denied the LNA had shelled the area. He has not yet commented on Saturday’s shelling at Mitiga.

However, pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.

The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, says Turkey has established a military drone base at Mitiga, but the GNA denies this.

(Reporting by Hani Amara in Istanbul and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Christina Fincher)



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