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Haftar forces almost fully control Libya’s Derna: LNA spokesman

A Libyan fighter, loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, gathers near the coastal city of Derna on April 14, 2018, as they await the start of military operations to recapture the city. (Photo by AFP)

The Libyan National Army (LNA), which is opposed to the country’s internationally-recognized government, says it is in the final stages of a battle to fully take the control of the city of Derna in eastern Libya.

The LNA, led by General Khalifah Haftar, said on the weekend that the fight for Derna, a city of around 125,000 people, which started a month ago, was nearing its end.

LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismar said only one neighborhood of the city, which lies on the Mediterranean and is over 265 kilometers to the west of the border with Egypt, remained to be captured.

“The operations are in their final stages and the fighting is very heavy,” Mismar said, adding, “What remains outside the control of our forces is considered a small combat zone, less than just 10 km squared.”

Derna is the only major city in eastern Libyan that has remained alien to Haftar’s LNA. It has been under LNA siege for almost two years and a militia group called the Derna Protection Force (DPF) has been mostly in control.

To gain more support for its massive ground offensive, the LNA has labeled the DPF as a group linked to al-Qaeda, saying the Derna operation is aimed at purging it of terrorists. The DPF, however, has brushed aside those claims and says it is resisting Haftar’s push to dominate the entire Libya through military assistance from certain countries.

Haftar, a general under former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has been mostly opposed to United Nations efforts to establish a unity government in Libya. He has openly opposed the rule of one such administration in the capital Tripoli since it was established in 2015 and continues to remain close to the rival government and parliament in the east of Libya.

Haftar and the LNA have been backed by certain Arab governments, including the United Arab Emirates and Libya’s neighbor Egypt, while governments in Europe that once contributed to a NATO military operation to oust Gaddafi have also offered Haftar some diplomatic support.

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