Al Jazeera focuses on the challenges of air travel into Western Libya. Over the past year, al Jazeera reports that Haftar’s forces have targeted Mitiga Airport, Tripoli’s only international airport on a near daily basis. Foreign airlines stopped flying directly into Mitiga some five years ago, and must fly in and out of Misrata airport, a three hour drive from Tripoli. One civilian pilot said that the experience of flying into Tripoli is terrifying, despite government attempts to protect the airport, while passengers caught inside during an LNA shelling campaign described chaos and terror in the airport.
Misrata airport must now contend with some 5000 passengers daily, a near 10-fold increase since fighting escalated last year. Tripoli’s GNA government is calling on the international community to punish Haftar for targeting a civilian airport, and warned it may have to change its strategy and “go on the offensive” to push Haftar’s forces away from Tripoli.
The LNA has consistently defended its attacking of Mitiga Airport by pointing out that Turkey, who backs the GNA, uses it as a military facility to launch its drone strikes in the ongoing conflict.
Turkish media is reporting that GNA forces report killing 23 LNA fighters in fighting in Southern Tripoli. The sources say that 9 GNA soldiers were also killed in the fighting.
Fighting continued and intensified throughout the weekend, as Tripoli residents reported the heaviest shelling since the January 12 with artillery fire heard and black smoke seen near the city centre and Mitiga Airport, Tripoli's only functioning international airport. Authorities had to suspend civilian flights once again as the LNA targeted the airport, over Turkey’s alleged use of the facilities for military purposes. A hospital near the airport was forced to evacuate some of the patients due to the fighting.
The GNA said its bombing of 11 targets on LNA territory was in retaliation for the LNA attacks on Tripoli and Mitiga airport. The GNA said that Haftar’s forces launched over 60 rockets at Tripoli, 25 of them at the airport. GNA health officials said 21 civilians including women and children were killed since January.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame (who just days later announced his resignation), called this a “very serious truce violation” and called on the sides to respect the ceasefire. He also said that bombing of civilian neighbourhoods “may amount to war crimes”. Salame condemned what seems to be a GNA drone strike in LNA-held territory that killed a family of 5. The LNA said it shot down at least 6 Turkish-operated drones, although this was not verified.
Salame further drew comparisons between the situations in Libya and Syria, including some of the same players active in both conflicts. He pointed out that he “believe(s) that there is a mutual integration between the two conflicts that is not favourable for peace in either one".
The New York Times is reporting that Libya's cease-fire has collapsed with foreign military shipments to the rival sides having resumed, just days after the Berlin peace summit that kicked off renewed efforts.
A spokesman for the eastern-based LNA told Reuters that "battles are raging on all front lines." Earlier this week, the UN mission to Libya UNSMIL warned of "continued blatant violations of the arms embargo" by foreign actors whom the UN did not name, but who had pledged in Berlin to uphold the embargo.
The collapse of the cease-fire and resumption of arms shipments are a serious blow to the UN efforts to push for a political solution. They are also a massive blow to the Russian-Turkish cease-fire efforts, who are using the Libyan conflict to "upstage the United Nations by privately negotiating a truce, but they have failed to impose it on their Libyan clients."
The UAE is considered Haftar's main backer, supplying arms and providing crucial air support. Military analysts have noticed a surge in flights from the UAE into Haftar controlled territory in recent days. Russia also backs Haftar, and is estimated to have provided around 1500 mercenaries in recent months. Turkey too, which backs the GNA, has been sending hundreds of Syrian militias to fight on behalf of Tripoli.
GNA and LNA leaders have said they continue to uphold the cease-fire, but were retaliating to the other sides' attacks. The UN reported on Sunday that two missiles struck Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport, wounding civilians and damaging structures. By Monday (yesterday), fighting resumed around Sirte - previously captured by Haftar and near Misrata, a strategic GNA stronghold.
According to Reuters, and despite that all attending international actors agreed to promote the ceasefire and respect the UN arms embargo on Libya, there are numerous reports of multiple violations over the past 10 days. UNSMIL, the UN mission in Libya has reported cargo and other flights landing in both western and eastern Libyan airports, transporting arms, armored vehicles, military advisers and even fighters. The UAE and Egypt seem to be behind the violations supporting the LNA, while Turkey is behind the violations supporting the GNA in the west.
Officials from both sides confirmed that fighting had erupted as of Sunday, as LNA forces advanced on Misrata. GNA sources confirmed clashes were taking place outside of Abugrein, after already taking control of Qaddaheya and Wadi Zamzan en route. Misrata is Libya's second largest city and most important GNA militia stronghold. Analyst Jalel Harchaoui suggested this might be a tactic to draw the GNA's Misratan militias from defending Tripoli to help defend Misrata, and give Haftar a greater chance at securing Tripoli and finishing the war.
On Wednesday (Jan 22), Tripoli's Mitiga Airport reopened and resumed flights, after having been shut down earlier that day due to shelling and rocket attacks. The attacks, attributed to Haftar's LNA forces, were yet another in a string of violations of the shaky ceasefire agreed upon in Moscow last week and backed by the international summit in Berlin on Sunday.
There were no reports of damage or casualties as a result of the rocket fire. Haftar and the LNA forces have been trying to take Tripoli since beginning a renewed offensive in April of 2019.
LNA sources said they were targeting "Turkish drones" being stored and launched from within Mitiga airport. The GNA denied this. This has not been the first time Mitiga airport has come under LNA fire and had to shut down, for similar reasons.
Despite the renewed efforts at a ceasefire, the Turkish-GNA military pact could see an increased effort by Turkey to send arms and troops, including Syrian militias, to assist the GNA, which could invite further LNA attacks on Tripoli's only functioning airport.
Khalifa Haftar, head of the LNA forces, left Moscow today without signing a on to a tentative ceasefire agreement. The initial cessation of hostilities, the first in months, was initiated last week by Russia and Turkey, who back the opposing sides in the Libyan conflict.
Talks began Monday and went into the evening. Fayez al-Sarraj, the Tripoli-based GNA prime minister, signed the initial agreement. However Haftar, who heads the LNA, asked until the morning to consider the terms. He left early Tuesday morning without signing, according to Russia's foreign ministry.
Haftar was quoted as as saying that "the draft ignores many of the Libyan army's demands". However, Russian FM Lavrov noted that Haftar viewed the ceasefire draft document "positively" and that some "progress" was made.
The next phase is the Berlin peace summit, scheduled to take place this Sunday. This is a part of the UN-led efforts to initiate a political process that has been postponed several times.
The talks are set to take place as Haftar's offensive on Tripoli has stalled on the southern outskirts, and as the LNA recently took control of the strategic coastal city of Sirte.
Ceasefire talks hosted by Moscow today (Monday) failed to reach a breakthrough so far, according to Al Jazeera. GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj signed a draft agreement. However rival Khalifa Haftar, who commands the LNA forces, requested additional time to review the document.
According to Russian foreign minister Lavrov, Haftar "has a positive view... and asked for extra time until the next morning to decide." Lavrov hopes "they will make a positive decision."
Turkish president Erdogan, who partnered with Putin to advance the ceasefire talks, despite that they support opposing sides in the conflict, said he was working to push the sides to a ceasefire. Speaking together with Italian prime minister Conte at a meeting in Ankara, Erdogan informed he would attend the long-awaited Berlin Summit this Sunday together with Conte and Putin to discuss Libyan developments.
LNA forces led by Khalifa Haftar and militias loyal to the Tripoli-based GNA say they are both agreeing to a cease-fire call offered by Turkey and Russia issued last Thursday. This would be the first truth in months of renewed and intensive fighting.
The cease-fire was set to go into effect early January 12. It was accepted by Haftar so long as the GNA would accept it as well. An LNA spokesman said "any breach will be met with a harsh response". The GNA posted, that "in response to the Turkish president and the Russian president's call for a cease-fire, the head of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord announces a cease-fire."
The UN Mission in Libya UNSMIL welcomed the cease-fire and called on the sides "to strictly abide by the ceasefire and make room for peaceful efforts to address all disputes through a Libyan-Libyan dialogue". German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the efforts and hoped they would be successful. Russian President Putin said "I am really counting on the opposing sides...ceasing armed combat... It's important to bring an end to the armed confrontation."
Russia and Turkey currently back the two opposing sides of the conflict. Observers note that the cease fire may be difficult to maintain due to the fact that both sides are comprised of numerous militias.
On Monday, the strategic coastal city of Sirte, under GNA control, fell to Haftar’s LNA in under three hours of fighting. Sirte has been under GNA control since it took the city back from ISIS, with American air support. The city’s defences reportedly collapsed as quickly as they did since the militia in charge of defending it, the Salafist Madkhali 604th Brigade, was convinced to switch its allegiance from the GNA to the LNA. The fall of Sirte has already raised concerns in the GNA that the militia stronghold of Misrata could be next, forcing the GNA to spread its defences thin.
The fall of Sirte to Haftar’s forces takes place as various foreign powers seem to be intensifying their involvement, seemingly jockeying for influence in the day-after. The fall of Sirte is a significant blow to the GNA, as it conceded its loss Tuesday.
Criticism of the growing role of foreign powers is also intensifying. Some are blaming foreign intervention for dictating the pace and intensity of the conflict. Analyst Fred Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment noted that the fall of Sirte could be strategically significant, as it might draw GNA fighters away from Tripoli to defend Misrata or launch a counter-strike in Sirte.