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No peace talks before seizing Libyan capital: Haftar allies

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Aguila Saleh, the head of east Libya parliament, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Egypt, on June 12, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

The speaker of east Libya’s parliament, which is aligned with troops trying to seize capital Tripoli from the UN-backed government, says there could be no peace negotiations until they captured the city.

Oil-rich Libya has been divided between two rival governments, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

The parliament is aligned with the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), led by strongman Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive in early April to conquer Tripoli and oust the GNA.

Haftar, who enjoys the loyalty of a group of armed militia and backing from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, has taken upon himself to protect the government in Tobruk.

The assault, however, has stalled in the face of resistance from local armed groups aligned with GNA.

“The (military) operation must be resolved. The political solution should in any case come even after the liberation of the Libyan capital,” Aguila Saleh, the chief of the Tobruk-based parliament, said. 

Saleh rejected proposals for the LNA to withdraw troops or agree to a truce, while he admitted that “the campaign to liberate Tripoli is not easy.”

“If someone could get these groups out peacefully, then the army would return to the barracks,” Saleh said, referring to the GNA’s armed groups.

Saleh claimed that GNA troops were using more than two million Libyans and buildings in the capital as shields, while Haftar’s militia was refraining from using heavy weapons to limit damage to property.

“The army could have carried out a powerful operation and used all kinds of weapons but these are Libyans and we will save any drop of blood, no matter what,” Saleh said. 

Haftar and his supporters claim that they are trying to liberate the capital from the grips of militias which they blame for destabilizing the North African country since the ouster of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Gaddafi’s ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.

The UN-backed GNA, however, blames Haftar for the crisis.

Since April, fighting has killed 653 people, wounded more than 2,000 and displaced over 93,000, according to the UN.

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