Haftar’s forces are fighting Islamist groups, including Ansar Al-Shari’a, for control of the port city, which is the main entry point for wheat and other food imports into eastern Libya. Haftar emerged as a renegade commander fighting Islamists but has recently entered into a frail alliance with the government.
“We will bomb any ship approaching the coast and hold the port director responsible for it,” Saqer Al-Jouroushi, Haftar’s air defense commander, told Reuters. Ansar Al-Shari’a had used the port to get ammunition and weapons, he said.
Western powers and Libya’s neighbors worry the oil producer will turn into a failed state. A weak government has proven unable to control former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now effectively run the country.
The government has lost control of the capital Tripoli to an armed opposition group from the western city of Misrata, forcing senior officials to relocate to Tobruk in the far east.
In Benghazi, special forces have allied themselves with Haftar’s forces to fend off Islamist militants which have overrun several army camps and are trying to seize the civilian and military airports.