Libya's GNA forces announce 'counteroffensive' to defend Tripoli

REUTERS  Philippe Wojazer  File

Haftar has ordered his troops to continue their march on Tripoli.

The sides have been in an uneasy truce since shortly after Gaddafi's downfall but the country now risks falling into civil war.

A similar statement came from the G7 foreign ministers, who interrupted an annual meeting in France to respond to the Libyan clashes.

The UN Security Council is expected to discuss Libya later on Friday, while UN Secretary General Guterres is supposed to meet with Haftar in Benghazi.

In Tripoli, council member Mohammed al-Ammari spoke from the city centre saying that Libya will not become a "hostage in hands of a military dictator once again".

Italy's foreign minister said Haftar must listen to warnings from the worldwide community to halt his advance on Tripoli.

The rebels are on the outskirts of the capital and say they have seized Tripoli's worldwide airport.

Libyan authorities earlier declared a state of emergency following the announcement of the Libyan National Army that its forces have started advancing towards Tripoli.

Pro-government forces in Tripoli confirmed that they had targeted Haftar's men with "intensive strikes".

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

Perhaps there could be personal sanctions directed against Haftar, perhaps efforts could be made to dry up the supply of weapons to the forces under his control, many of which come across the border from Egypt.

"At this sensitive moment in Libya's transition, military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos", the statement, issued by the U.S. state department, said.

Libya today is divided between two rival governments: one in the eastern city of Tobruk backed by Haftar and an internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli.

Libya has struggled to counter unrest since Gaddafi's overthrow, leaving dozens of militias to fill the void and ally with either the GNA or the rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.

Conflicting reports emerged Saturday about ongoing fighting over control in Tripoli between forces loyal to east Libya-based Haftar and opponents. "I still hope that it would be possible to avoid bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli and the United Nation will remain available to facilitate any political solution able to unify the Libyan institutions".

The UN-backed prime minister has accused him of attempting a coup and says rebels will be met with force.

The fear, according to The Associated Press, is that the Libyan National Army's advances toward the capitol could lead to "a major showdown with rival militias".

The situation in Libya has been tense since 4 April, when the Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, started an offensive to rid Tripoli of militants.

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