New Islamist coalition formed in Eastern Libya ahead of pro-gov't assault

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An inside view of a damaged building which was used as a base in the city of al-Zawiyah in Libya after Libyan Dawn forces took control, on November 16, 2014. Anadolu / Ahmet İzgi

Published Saturday, December 13, 2014

Updated at 2:00 pm (GMT+2): Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan town of Derna say they have formed a new coalition ahead of an assault by pro-government forces.

"Everybody saw what happened in Benghazi: disaster; institutions destroyed; houses demolished; mosques and universities burned by the criminal hands of Haftar's supporters," said the newly formed Mujahideen Shura Council.

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar and Abdullah al-Thani, Libya's internationally recognized prime minister, are fighting to wrest full control of Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi from Islamist militants.

Haftar, who is allied to Libya's internationally recognized government has vowed to expel Islamist militias from the country’s main cities. Libya's internationally-recognized House of Representatives declared its support for Haftar's operation against jihadists.

On Saturday, forces loyal to Libya's internationally recognized government conducted airstrikes on targets near the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sider to stop an advance by a rival force towards the facilities, officials said.

The oil ports, two of Libya's biggest, accounting for more than 300,000 barrels a day of exports, were working normally, an oil official said.

Saqer al-Joroushi, an air force commander allied to Thani, said his aircraft had attacked positions near Sirte, a costal city in central Libya.

He said a rival force from Misrata, a coastal city west of Sirte and the ports, had advanced towards the terminals with a large number of vehicles. "We bombed them to stop them from entering the ports," he said.

Tripoli-based al-Nabaa television said a force it said had been mandated by the General National Congress (GNC), the rival assembly based in Tripoli since a group called Libyan Dawn (Fajr Libya) seized the capital in August, had started an operation to take the ports.

It quoted the head of the force, adding that two people had been killed in clashes near al-Sider port. Websites close to Libyan Dawn also said such an operation had started.

In an interview published two weeks ago, Haftar said he set two weeks to take the eastern city of Benghazi and three months to recapture the capital, Tripoli.

It is likely Haftar’s deadline will be extended due to the formation of Mujahideen Shura Council.

Amnesty International said in a report late October that both pro-government and rebel militias vying for control of western Libya are committing war crimes including torturing detainees and targeting civilians.

Last week, seven people were killed, including five African migrant workers, as pro-government forces carried out airstrikes on the coastal city of Zuara in western Libya.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that has seized chunks of Iraq and Syria is thought to have gained a foothold in Derna amid the chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

In its statement issued late on Friday, the Mujahideen Shura Council called on everyone in Derna to join the new coalition.

It also addressed Islamist fighters in Benghazi, saying: "We are with you in the war against the criminal Haftar and his soldiers."

Ahead of the announcement, the Islamists staged a military parade in Derna with tanks and combatants.

Since the 2011 uprising, Libya has been sliding deeper into crisis, torn by rival governments, parliaments and powerful militias, despite UN efforts to broker talks on ending the violence.

A top US military general claimed last week that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya, and said that the American military was closely monitoring the situation.

Analysts say a number of factions in Derna have pledged loyalty to ISIS, but it remains unclear how much support they enjoy.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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