The head of one of Libya’s rival governments has accused a key opposition force of “surrendering” the city of Sirte to Islamic State (IS) fighters.
Sirte, the last stronghold of Gaddafi loyalists during the 2011 uprising against him and the site of his summary execution in October of that year, fell to IS fighters in February.
The city’s airport, a joint military and civilian facility said to be one of the biggest on the continent, was seized by IS last week after Libya Dawn fighters withdrew from the area, saying they wanted to regroup and secure areas east and west of the town.
Abdullah al-Thinni, who heads the House of Representatives based in eastern Libya and survived an apparent assassination attempt last week, told a press conference on Sunday night that Libya Dawn’s withdrawal in the face of the IS advance was carried out “in co-ordination” with the militant group.
Thinni said he was “amazed” that Libya Dawn, which is allied to the Tripoli-based General National Congress, had “advanced towards the Oil Crescent in an attempt to take over the source of the Libyan people’s income and attack it,” while also “withdrawing from Sirte”.
In response to the IS advance in Sirte, Thinni repeated his plea for the international community to arm forces allied to his government, calling on them to adopt a “decisive position”.
The international community has so far held back from lifting an arms embargo imposed on Libya since 2011, voting in March to keep the exports freeze in place.
Libya Dawn has not responded directly to the allegations, but on Sunday night released a statement calling on “all Libyan fighters and Muslim Brotherhood leaders” to release “clear and strong declarations” distancing themselves from the “terrorist Islamic State group”.
Sirte is a city of some 85,000, and since the 2011 revolution has faced high unemployment rates, with residents complaining that they were ignored by the country’s transitional government.