Libya's Haftar launches attack, tests peace summit
Militias loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar launched a mortar attack on Jan. 19, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Jan. 20.
Abdul-Malik Al-Madani, spokesman for the Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) Operation by Libya’s U.N.-recognized government, said that the militias violated the cease-fire by launching a random mortar attack on the Salah al-Din region south of Tripoli.
While warring parties in Libya and the international community gathered in Berlin, Haftar’s forces also launched mortar attacks on Al Halatat during the day.
Periodic gunfire was heard south of the Libyan capital and black smoke could be seen rising.
World powers with interests in Libya's long-running conflict pledged on Jan. 19 to respect a much-violated arms embargo and push opposing factions to reach a truce.
But on the ground, tensions remained high. As world leaders convened about military de-escalation, observers said scattered clashes erupted outside Tripoli, testing a tenuous week-old cease-fire.
Libya’s internationally recognized government in the capital Tripoli has been under attack by Haftar since last April and fighting over the last nine months has killed more than 1,000 people.
“People are holding their breath,'' Associated Press quoted political analyst Mohamed Eljarh as saying.
“I am worried there is no appetite among the warring parties and their constituencies for a truce right now," Eljarh added.
A doctor and resident of southern Tripoli, Mohamed Malek, 27, said he fled his neighborhood late on Jan. 19 when he heard sporadic exchanges of gunfire.
Another Tripoli resident, Ahmed Werfali, 34, said he heard a loud explosion early on Jan. 20, and limited fighting overnight. But the violence was far less than the routine pounding of heavy weaponry before the cease-fire, he said.
Aid workers in the capital's southern suburbs said they had not been able to recover corpses for several days because of continued fighting.
"We found six corpses stuck under rubble but there was intense shooting and we couldn't reach them until today," said Assad Jaafar, a spokesman for Libya's Red Crescent.
Libya's two main rival leaders, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and former general Haftar did not sign any documents in the Berlin summit, let alone appear in the same room.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister said they met the leaders separately ahead of the conference.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking to reporters on his way back from Berlin, criticized Haftar’s failure to ink a roadmap for ending the war.
"It remained verbal, witnessed by those who participated in the meeting," he said.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told reporters on Jan. 20 the most important issue now is that the warring Libyan parties negotiate a "real cease-fire.'' Talks are supposed to start this week under U.N. auspices in Geneva, he said.
“What is very important is that everybody recognized there is no military solution to this conflict,'' Heusgen said.
Oil fields remain shut
Libya's major oil fields and production facilities remained closed on Jan. 20, its national oil company said, in a sign that the country's east-based forces are not backing down after an international summit to end the Libyan civil war.
The Libyan National Oil Corporation confirmed it had invoked force majeure on oil exports from two key southern fields, a clause that allows for a failure to fulfill international contracts due to a sudden disruptive event.
The continued closure of virtually all of Libya's oil facilities by eastern Libyan forces ratchets up pressure on their adversaries in the west, the U.N.-backed government that controls the capital, Tripoli.
Haftar’s tribal allies closed a major pipeline over the weekend, stopping about 380,000 barrels per day of production and potentially cutting national output to a small fraction of its normal level.
The protesters accuse the Tripoli-based government, which controls Libya's Central Bank, of using oil revenues to fund military operations against Haftar’s forces.
The shut-down of production in the south follows the weekend closure of all eastern export terminals. Only offshore fields and one smaller facility remain operational, the national oil company said.
Oil, the lifeline of Libya's economy, has long been a key factor in the civil war, as rival authorities jostle for control of oil fields and state revenue. Libya has the ninth-largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil reserves in Africa.