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Haftar's forces retake key town from Libya rivals: spokesman

Haftar is backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 June, 2020

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Haftar's forces lost the town of al-Asabaa to UN-backed government forces last month, but regained the town after airstrikes on Monday, according to a spokesman.
Forces affiliated with rogue Libyan General Khalifa Haftar on Sunday retook a key town from fighters allied with the UN-supported government, a spokesman said, as growing foreign intervention in the conflict appeared to move the Libyan war into a new phase.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country is now split between a government in the east allied with the former army commander Haftar, and one in Tripoli in the west supported by the United Nations.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), said they recaptured the town of al-Asabaa, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, after airstrikes on the militias in the area.

The eastern-based forces have been trying to take the capital from the weak but UN-supported government since last spring.

Increasing Turkish support for the Tripoli government has turned the conflict after months of stalemate, leading to a series of defeats for Haftar in recent weeks.

Al-Asabaa is located on a key road that links LNA forces to the town of Tarhuna, their main western stronghold and supply line southeast of the capital.

The spokesman said their troops were chasing Tripoli-allied forces fleeing to their stronghold in the nearby town of Gharyan.

Read more: In Libya, Russia calls in its proxy, Assad

A statement by Mohamed Gnono, a spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces, said they were striking LNA forces on the town's borders.

Gnono did not provide details. But two Tripoli officials said they lost the town after heavy shelling and airstrikes by Haftar's UAE-backed forces. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.

The chaos in Libya has worsened in recent months as foreign backers increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.

Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Turkey and Italy.

The LNA lost a key airbase and several western town including al-Asabaa late last month.

Despite his losses and international pleas for a ceasefire, Haftar vowed to continue his offensive and escalated airstrikes against rival forces.

Last month, the US military accused Russia of deploying 14 aircrafts to Libya to help Haftar's forces, saying the move was part of Moscow's longer term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. Russia has denied links to the aircraft, calling the claim "stupidity".

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