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Deaths rise as battle for Tripoli intensifies

April 09, 2019 00:00:00

TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) guarding the entrance leading to Tripoli's old airport on Monday — AFP

TRIPOLI, Apr 08 (Reuters): Eastern Libyan forces tried to push toward the center of Tripoli on Monday after their easy desert advance hit a tougher urban phase, with deaths and displacements mounting despite Western appeals for a truce and a return to a peace plan.

Renewed war in Libya - splintered since Muammar Gaddafi's 2011 fall - threatens to disrupt oil and gas supplies, trigger more migration to Europe, and wreck UN hopes for an election.

The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Gaddafi's army, said 19 of their soldiers had died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.

The United Nations said 2,800 people had been displaced by clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped.

The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance into the center from a disused airport.

But the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has armed groups arriving from nearby Misrata to help block the LNA. It reported 11 deaths without saying on which side.

Al-Serraj, 59, who comes from a wealthy business family, has run the Tripoli government since 2016 as part of a UN-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar.

His LNA, allied with a parallel eastern administration based in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before its surprisingly fast push toward the coastal capital.

While that advance was straightforward through sparsely populated areas, taking Tripoli is a far bigger challenge.

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