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Libyan government reinforces Tripoli defenses | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Vehicles of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

Vehicles of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

Vehicles of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

London and Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Libyan government ordered members of loyalist militias to Tripoli on Monday, a day after fighters claiming loyalty to renegade general Khalifah Haftar stormed the parliament building in a show of support for his campaign against Islamist militias in Benghazi.

Libya’s parliamentary speaker, Nouri Abusahmain, said he had ordered members of largely Islamist militias to reinforce the capital to guard against further attacks, in a move that may set the scene for further clashes between loyalist and pro-Haftar forces.

On Sunday, pro-Haftar fighters stormed the Libyan parliament building in Tripoli after closing off all the roads leading to it. Two people were reported to have been killed in the operation, and several dozen wounded.

A statement issued by a pro-Haftar officer on Libyan television that the interim government had been dissolved was ignored by the authorities. Haftar’s forces withdrew late on Sunday, and Tripoli was reportedly quiet on Monday, with pro-Haftar forces regrouping on the city’s outskirts.

Sources in the city told Asharq Al-Awsat that violent clashes had erupted on Sunday evening on the airport road between the Madani Brigade—one of the pro-Haftar brigades —and militias known as Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries. No information was available on casualties.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected more bloody clashes between pro-Haftar forces and government forces, most of whom were Islamist militias.

Haftar launched a two-day campaign against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, kicking off two days of fighting that left 70 people dead, according to the Libyan ministry of health.

Several units of revolutionary militia and air force pilots answered Haftar’s call, attacking Islamist militias based in and around the city.

Staff at the Libyan parliament told Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of buildings, including the offices of Abusahmain, were attacked during the chaotic events of Sunday. Rumors spread that Abusahmain was detained, but the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied the rumors and said only a number of MPs and staff had been held.

Khalid Al-Sharif, Undersecretary of the Libyan Defense Ministry, said Abusahmain was in a safe place and confirmed reports of the abduction of other MPs and parliamentary staff.

A militia group called Al-Sawa’iq claimed responsibility for the attack on the parliament, and announced on its website that it carried out the attack to help the “brothers in Benghazi” against the parliament, which it said was dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Col. Mohamed Hejazi, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said the fighters who stormed parliament were members of the Libyan National Army, the name adopted by Haftar’s forces in Benghazi.

In a statement broadcast on TV on Saturday evening, Haftar said his campaign in Benghazi was a “response to calls by the Libyan people and is a battle in defense of the people, and to spare the lives of Libyan army soldiers and officers who are being killed daily.”

Haftar accused members of the ruling authorities in Libya of conspiring with terrorists and criticized the authorities for accusing him of attempting to seize power for himself.

He said: “Our legitimacy comes from the people and we want a Libya free from terrorism. We also want an army and police [to] implement the will of the Libyan people.”

He added: “We did not want Libyans to resort to arms to solve their problems, but since terrorism forced that on us, let the solution be with arms.”

Sporadic clashes between Haftar’s forces and extremist Islamist militias continued on the streets of Benghazi, while unknown assailants detonated an explosive device at a local radio station affiliated to an Islamist group in the city, which damaged the building but did not cause casualties.

The head of Benghazi’s nearby Benina International Airport, Ibrahim Farkash, said the airport administration had decided to suspend operations for 48 hours as a precautionary measure. He said the suspension would be lifted as soon as there were signs of improvement in the security situation in Benghazi.

In a related issue, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby has nominated former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser Al-Qudwa as his representative to mediate between the different factions in Libya.

Diplomatic sources said Elaraby held talks with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz on Saturday and discussed Qudwa’s role.

The sources added that the Libyans welcomed Qudwa’s role and pointed out that the situation in Libya in general terms was discussed at the meeting in Cairo, adding that the Libyan government expressed its willingness to cooperate and ensure the success of Qudwa’s task.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia announced the closure of its embassy in Libya and the evacuation of its staff on Monday.

“All the diplomatic staff have left the Libyan capital aboard a private plane due to the security situation through which Libya is passing,” Ambassador Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Ali told the Saudi Press Agency.

Additional reporting contributed by Sawsan Abu Hussein from Cairo.