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Libya unity government retakes Haftar-held town as fresh violence erupts

Libya’s UN-recognised unity government retook the town of Tarhuna southeast of Tripoli on Friday, depriving eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar of his last redoubt in the west, a spokesman said.

“Our heroic forces have extended their control over the whole of Tarhuna,” said Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for the Government National Accord, already buoyed by the recapture of the whole of greater Tripoli.

Tarhuna was the main launchpad for the 14-month offensive against the capital that Haftar’s forces finally abandoned this week.

Libya’s UN-recognised government said Thursday it was back in full control of Tripoli and its suburbs, capping a string of victories against eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar and vowing to take the whole country.

“Our heroic forces have full control of Greater Tripoli right up to the city limits,” Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said in a Facebook post.

The announcement came after GNA forces retook the Tripoli International Airport on Wednesday, after fierce battles more than a year after losing it as Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital.

The country’s main civilian airport, in Tripoli’s southern outskirts, had been disused since 2014 when it was heavily damaged in fighting between rival militias.

But it was a key strategic prize on a major highway into the capital.

The unity government’s deputy defence minister Salah Namrush said Thursday that GNA forces “are continuing their advance, chasing the terrorist militias from the walls of Tripoli.”

“Some of their commanders are fleeing towards Bani Walid airport,” some 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of the capital, he added on Facebook.

Haftar, whose main base is in the east, seized most of southern Libya early last year before launching his offensive on the capital in April, vowing to “cleanse” it from “terrorist militias” backing the GNA.

A rapid early advance stalled on the edges of Tripoli in fighting that has killed hundreds and forced around 200,000 people to flee.

But GNA forces with heavy Turkish backing have made a string of gains from Haftar’s forces in recent months.

Footage of GNA troops manning positions held until recently by Haftar’s fighters was widely circulated on Libyan television channels and social media.

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