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East Libyan forces surge through central desert oasis towns

Libyan forces loyal to the eastern authority surged through oasis towns [AFP]

Date of publication: 3 June, 2017

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East Libyan forces have captured a number of oasis towns in the country's central desert region, after Egyptian airstrikes helped them overcome the rival militia defences.
East Libyan forces under the command of renegade general Khalifa Haftar have surged through an oasis area in the country, after Egyptian airstrikes helped the fighters break the deadlock.

Fighters from the eastern-based Libyan National Army managed to capture oasis towns in the country's central Jufra desert region on Friday after airstrikes pounded rival militia positions on Thursday night.

Libyan National Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters that his forces had captured the towns of Waddan, Hun and Sawkna from Benghazi Defence Brigades on Friday with fighting leading to six deaths on both sides.

He said the next target would be the key town of Bani Walid, north-west of Jufra.

"Once we have control of the military base of Jufra we will move to the west, to Bani Walid, very gradually, because this is a very dangerous area," Mismari said.

The nearby Jufra air force base is still under the control of the Benghazi Defence Brigades, who were pushed out of the eastern city by Haftar forces last year.

Pro-Haftar Libyan fighter jets have pounded the oasis towns, while the Egyptian air force also launched air raids on the Jufra region and other towns.

Egypt has also aided Haftar by sending dozens of special forces to eastern Libya.

The recent bout of fighting is a heavy blow for international powers attempting to reconcile the eastern-based authority and the UN-recognised government in Libya.

Fighting between rival militias since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 has led to the proliferation of Islamic State group and al-Qaeda linked militias.

The general lawlessness of the country has also made Libya the perfect staging posts for people smuggling to Europe.

Haftar's forces want to capture the capital Tripoli and now appear to have air support from Cairo after it launched "retaliatory raids" on jihadi camps in eastern Libya following the killing of Christians in central Egypt by IS-linked militants last month.

The areas targeted are not under the control of IS and many believe the massacre was used as a pretext to strike Islamist militias that rival Cairo ally Haftar.


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