Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj on Friday shrugged off threats by his rival made the previous day that the battle to capture Tripoli has entered the “zero hour”.
Sarraj called on Libyans to rally around him in the defense of the nation.
Haftar had previously declared his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) was waging a final, “decisive battle” to take Tripoli from Sarraj’s UN-supported government. “The zero hour has ticked,” the warlord said in a televised speech on Thursday evening.
Since 2015, war-torn Libya has been divided between two governments, the Haftar-led one in the eastern city of Tobruk and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west, based in Tripoli and supported by the UN, as well as Italy, Turkey and Qatar.
Haftar’s forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Russia and France, launched a push on the capital in April.
After nearly eight months of fighting, Khalifa’s forces have failed to take Tripoli as they are in stalemate on the city’s southern edges.
At least 200 civilians and more than 2,000 fighters have been killed since the start of Haftar’s Tripoli push, according to the United Nations. The fighting has also displaced 146,000 people.
Following an EU summit in Brussels, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy urged all sides in the Libyan conflict to cease fighting. Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Giuseppe Conte said stability in Libya “can only be achieved through a political solution”.
Although they did not mention Haftar by name, the timing of their statement seemed to be in a response to Haftar’s declaration of war.
“They reaffirmed their full support for the United Nations and the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ghassan Salame, as lasting peace and stability in Libya can only be achieved through a political solution,” the statement said.
Merkel told reporters it was “clear at this point that Libya is quite a proxy war”.
“None of the parties there can act alone under their own steam, and that’s why we feel called upon to move forward politically as quickly as possible,” she said.
In a video posted on the Libyan government’s Facebook page, Sarraj dismissed Hafter’s claim about a new push as “lies” and “delusions” and said his forces have already “taught the invaders a lesson.”
“I call upon you to rally around the project of a civil state and to show faith in our right to build a state, based on institutions, the rule of law and liberties,” Sarraj said. “Libya can only end up as an oasis for freedom and democracy.”
Since the fighting erupted, Sarraj has portrayed himself as a democratic leader who strives to thwart his rival’s alleged attempts to instate a military dictatorship in Libya. Meanwhile, Haftar has argued that his military operation seeks to purge the capital of radical militias allied with Sarraj’s government.
The latest statements from Haftar and Sarraj come amid heightened tension between the two sides after Sarraj’s government signed a security accord and maritime deal with Turkey last month. Earlier this week, Turkey’s President Erdogan said the agreement gives his country the right to send troops to Libya to fend off Haftar’s forces from Tripoli.