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Libyan government forces launch major offensive to retake key Haftar stronghold near Tripoli

Libyan government forces began a new operation on Saturday to retake the city of Tarhouna, 88 kilometres southeast of the Tripoli, from forces loyal to rogue General Khalifa Haftar.

Forces loyal to the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) said that they had killed eight fighters loyal to Haftar and captured 102.

Tarhouna is a major supply base for Haftar’s self-styled “Libyan National Army”, which has been waging an assault to capture Tripoli from the GNA since April 2019. It is considered the last major stronghold of Haftar’s forces in the area around Tripoli.

GNA forces said that they had taken control of the Hawatem area in the east of Tarhouna. Mohammed Qununu, a spokesman for government forces, said that warplanes had “carried out two operations over Tarhouna and hit five targets, including rear positions of Haftar’s militias” prior to the ground forces’ advance on the city.

Several other areas south of Tripoli were also captured by GNA forces. The Libyan capital has been hit by frequent and indiscriminate airstrikes by Haftar’s forces over the past year.

GNA forces launched Operation Peace Storm to retake areas around Tripoli last month, after a ceasefire agreement proclaimed earlier this year failed. Fighting has intensified recently, with the GNA capturing several towns around Tripoli and Haftar’s forces intensifying their airstrikes against the capital.

Both sides have defied UN calls for a new ceasefire even amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, which has gained a foothold in the war-torn country. Foreign mercenaries have joined the conflict and they are seen as a key vector of coronavirus transmission.

Russia, which has quietly backed Haftar, sent Syrian mercenaries to Libya last week. Turkey, which backs the GNA, has also sent Syrian fighters to the country.

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