March 2, 2020 / 2:44 PM / a month ago

Libyan government to move from defense 'to attack', minister says

Libya's interior minister Fathi Bashagha attends an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) - Libya’s internationally recognized government will soon try to push back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern forces that have been attacking the capital Tripoli for months, its interior minister has told Reuters.

“The GNA (Government of National Accord) and its forces do not want to see Tripoli subject to shelling every day and it will move these forces (of Haftar) away from Tripoli,” Fathi Bashagha said in an interview with Reuters late on Sunday.

Bombardment around the capital has intensified in recent days, and shelling has repeatedly closed the capital’s only functioning airport at Mitiga, held by the GNA.

The escalation is the most serious since the announcement of a ceasefire on Jan. 12 and Bashagha said the GNA believed that Haftar had launched a new assault.

“On Friday, more than 60 missiles dropped on Mitiga and 60 dropped on Tripoli on Saturday.... so now he begins his attack,” Bashagha said. “Our defense will also move to attack because there is no hope for the ceasefire,” he added.

Asked if the GNA would begin a military offensive in the coming days, he said “definitely”.

Haftar began his assault on Tripoli last year after advancing from his stronghold in eastern Libya with help from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

Turkey in January began sending some of its forces and allied Syrian fighters to support the GNA. Bashagha said this had “created a military balance” which should bring Haftar to dialogue.

Bashagha called on the United States and Britain to put pressure on countries supporting Haftar and said that Libya faced a major humanitarian crisis if the international community did not intervene.

Reporting By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean

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