Fears grow of civil war in Libya

Commentators and reporters say Libya is on the brink of all-out civil war involving government forces, heavily-armed militias and a new movement supported by rebel army officers.

Alarm about violence in the country has grown since major general Khalifa Haftar launched an unauthorised attack against Islamist groups in Benghazi on 16 May. At least 75 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting.

On 17 May, the General National Congress (GNC), Libya’s parliament in Tripoli, was stormed by the Al Zintan Brigade, a militia group backed by Haftar. He has said he aims to rid Benghazi and the rest of Libya of Islamist militants with his self-declared Libyan National Army.

Haftar was a supporter of Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi but fled to the US in the 1990s. He returned to Libya to support the 2011 rebellion.

Libya on 20 May announced elections for the 200-member GNC will take place on 25 June in a bid that some observers hope may help defuse rising tensions. GNC elections held in February were widely dismissed because of low voter turnout.

Haftar’s actions are increasing fears that Libya will descend into a civil war involving government forces, the multitude of heavily-armed militias that participated in the Libyan rebellion that control large parts of the country and Haftar’s movement.

The US has announced that it has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate the American embassy in Tripoli. US Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing at the Pentagon on 20 May that about 250 Marines plus seven Osprey aircraft and three C-130 planes were in place as “a precaution, a prudent measure.”

Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have announced the closure of their embassies in Libya.

“Libyan authorities, to put it bluntly, have lost control of their country,” a report by John Hudson published in the Washington Post last week said.

“The road ahead looks bloody and intractable with separatist groups in the oil-rich eastern region of Buraq already calling for a split from the country,” a comment about the Libyan crisis by Marwan Asmar published in today’s Gulf News said.

For more see www.meed.com.