|16 September, 2019

East Libyan forces carry out air strikes on city of Sirte

A strike hit a building near a feedstock plant, but an LNA official said the force had targeted a military position.

BENGHAZI, Libya- Eastern Libyan forces on Monday mounted air strikes on positions in the central city of Sirte held by the internationally recognised government, an official and residents said, widening a conflict engulfing the capital Tripoli.

Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force has been trying since April to take Tripoli, which is held by the internationally recognised government, with a ground campaign supported by air strikes.

There had been LNA-claimed strikes in recent days on the outskirts of Sirte, some 450km east of Tripoli, but not the city centre itself, residents said.

A strike hit a building near a feedstock plant, but an LNA official said the force had targeted a military position.

The Tripoli-based government said on Facebook that drones operated by the United Arab Emirates had carried out strikes against the positions of a force allied to it.

The UAE has been backing the LNA alongside Egypt, according to U.N. reports, but neither country has confirmed this. Turkey is backing the Tripoli forces.

Mitiga airport, the only working airport in Tripoli, was also targeted in the early hours of Monday, an eastern military source told Reuters. It has been closed due to continued air strikes.

Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free the capital from armed groups which they blame for destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Haftar's critics accuse him of trying to seize power through a military coup, deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.

Sirte, Gaddafi's birth place, was a stronghold for Islamic State militants until Tripoli-forces backed by U.S. airstrikes expelled the group in December 2016.

The coastal city lies at the unofficial border of areas of influence of the Tripoli forces in western Libya and the LNA controlling the east, home to a parallel government.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Ed Osmond) ((Nadine.Awadalla@thomsonreuters.com;))

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