Haftar militias bombard Tripolis's Souq Al Jum'aa district

Haftar militias bombard Tripolis's Souq Al Jum'aa district

Haftar militias bombard Tripoliss Souq Al Jumaa district

Militias loyal to East Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar launched artillery and missile strikes in the capital Tripoli's Souq Al Jum'aa district early on Jan. 9.

Since early evening, a number of strong explosions have been heard in the area, which is close to Tripoli's only civilian airport, Mitiga.

Witnesses said Souq Al Jum'aa was hit with many missiles, but there have been no statements issued on whether there are casualties.

Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) meanwhile announced the expansion of a no-fly zone to include Mitiga Airport.

"The LNA General Staff declared the expansion of the previously established no-fly zone in Tripoli, which includes the airport of Mitiga starting from 5:00 p.m. on [Jan. 8] (15:00 GMT)," LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

Al-Mismari warned airlines to respect the boundaries of the no-fly zone and not to put their planes at risk of being destroyed.

In April, Haftar's forces launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli from the internationally recognized government.

Haftar announced on Dec. 12 that he had ordered his militants to launch a "decisive battle" to capture the city.

According to the U.N., more than 1,000 people have been killed and at least 5,000 injured since the start of the operation.

Italy urges Haftar to end Libya offensive

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Jan. 8 urged Haftar to stop his offensive in Libya, as EU leaders upped diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis.    

Conte warned of "the risks to the stability of the entire region" and "called for the military option to be abandoned", the government said in a statement following the meeting with Haftar in Rome.

He insisted the only sustainable solution was a political one, echoing the sentiment in Brussels, where EU chiefs met with Haftar's rival, the head of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj.    

Haftar's forces -- who have support from the UAE, Egypt, and Russia -- have seized control of the coastal city of Sirte as part of his drive to take Tripoli and oust the GNA.    

EU leaders met al-Sarraj on Jan. 8 as they scramble to contain the escalating crisis there, with Germany warning the country could deteriorate into a "second Syria".  

Haftar's forces say key coastal city captured
Haftars forces say key coastal city captured

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell cautioned that Libya was facing a "watershed point", while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the country could deteriorate into a "second Syria".    

"We want to prevent Libya from becoming the scene of a proxy war or Libya becoming a second Syria," Maas and EU Council President Charles Michel told reporters.

The EU pledged to "step up efforts towards a peaceful and political solution" in a statement released afterwards, hoping the so-called Berlin process -- U.N.-sponsored talks planned for the German capital -- can offer a way out.    

Maas, who a day earlier took part in emergency talks on Libya with his French, British and Italian counterparts, said Sarraj had given his full support to the Berlin process and pledged to "push ahead with what is to be agreed there -- both a ceasefire and an arms embargo with the neighbouring states, but also above all the political process under the aegis of the United Nations."     

No date has been fixed for the Berlin conference, but Maas suggested it could happen in the coming weeks.    

Borrell, who on Jan. 8 condemned Turkey for "interference" in the Libya conflict, earlier in the day warned that the situation in Libya was becoming increasingly perilous.    

Michel is due in Turkey this weekend for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while Borrell plans to meet other Libyan leaders including Haftar in search of a breakthrough.    

EU's Michel due in Istanbul to meet Turkish president
EUs Michel due in Istanbul to meet Turkish president

Ankara says it has sent 35 Turkish troops who are carrying out training and coordination tasks to support the GNA, insisting they will not take part in any fighting.    

Libya has been plunged into chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed longstanding dictator Muammar Gaddafi and is now divided between the U.N.-backed GNA and Haftar's authorities.

Tensions escalated last year when Haftar launched an offensive to capture Tripoli and the conflict is complicated by the involvement of outside forces including the UAE and by Russian mercenaries backing the strongman -- though Moscow denies playing a role.     

The EU is keen to stop the conflict spiralling out of control, fearing that terror groups such as the ISIL could exploit the instability to launch attacks and concerned the turmoil could lead to more migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.     

Elsewhere, Libya was on the agenda as Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Erdoğan in calling for a ceasefire in Libya from midnight on Jan. 12 as they met in Istanbul.