Benghazi clashes highlight Libya’s ongoing security crisis

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Clashes in Benghazi between supporters of a defected army general and battalions affiliated with the army highlight the ongoing security crisis plaguing the country.

On May 19, 2014, clashes between the forces affiliated with Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who defected from the army, and the battalion of rebels affiliated with the Islamists and supported by the Libyan army broke out in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Many people were wounded and killed in the fighting.

The clashes erupted after Haftar's forces attacked the headquarters of Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade in the Hawari region following long-range artillery shelling, which killed one member of the brigade and wounded three others. A MiG aircraft and helicopter that took off from Benina Airport in Benghazi intervened to support Haftar's forces, whose spokesman announced that the operation aimed to “cleanse” Benghazi of terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, the chief of staff of the Libyan Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Abdessalem Jadallah al-Salihin, called on the Benghazi rebels to deter Haftar's forces, who call themselves “the National Army Forces,” and prevent them from taking over Benghazi.

The clashes, which killed at least two people and wounded eight more, were part of the fresh security chaos in Benghazi caused by the tug of war between the Islamist militants and their pro-Haftar adversaries calling for self-rule. On Feb. 14, 2014, Haftar declared a “media coup” that was not translated into actual military action. Ismail al-Salabi, leader of the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade, told Al-Hayat that the attackers included militants known for their affiliation with former President Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, who had tried to deter the rebels during the Feb. 17, 2011, revolution.

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Salabi confirmed that many victims fell during the clashes, which were centered on a cement factory in the Hawari region, its surroundings and in Sidi Bishr near Benina Airport. He could not give an exact number of victims. Haftar's forces started their attack from their headquarters in Ar-Rajma Camp outside Benghazi. Witnesses told Al-Hayat that long-range shelling was launched on the same camp during the clashes. The chief of staff had called on Haftar to vacate the headquarters and on the soldiers there to join the camps of the regime forces.

Defense Undersecretary Khalid al-Sharif confirmed that the aircraft, which circled over Benghazi and targeted camps in the city, flew without permission from the air force chief of staff. This news was confirmed by Ali Abou Diya, air force commander in the Libyan army.

Sharif added that the aircraft “do not represent the chief of staff” and considered their action an attempt to support “a coup against the February 17 Revolution.”

The clashes subsided, and a military source in Benghazi said that Haftar's militants had retreated in the fighting that took place in the areas around the cement plant south of the city. The source added that the members of the national army and rebels of the city “forced these groups to retreat from the region.”

According to news reports, an attack was launched simultaneously on the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia in the region of Sidi Faraj in Benghazi, while sources close to Haftar said that forces affiliated with him moved from Tobruk toward Derna city, the stronghold of Islamist militants in eastern Libya. However, this was not confirmed by any independent party.

Simultaneously, the advocates of self-rule closed the entrance of east of Benghazi, and one of their leaders explained that they would “only allow friendly forces supporting retired officer Haftar to pass.”

Meanwhile, Salihin declared that the commander in the Libyan army, Safi Jazawi, was killed in Qawarsha in Benghazi. According to a military statement, “The Libyan army does not follow people, parties or slogans. The chief of staff office is the only body authorized to issue orders, tasks and assignments.”

In Algeria, the government decided yesterday [May 16] to close temporarily its embassy and consulate general in Tripoli because of “a real and imminent threat” to its diplomats, according to the Foreign Ministry’s statement.

“Upon confirmed information about a real and imminent threat targeting our diplomats and consular officers, a decision to close our embassy and our consulate general in Libya has been taken as a preventive and urgent measure, in coordination with the Libyan authorities,” the statement said.

In April, the Jordanian ambassador to Libya, Fawaz Eitan, was kidnapped during an attack on his convoy in Tripoli. He was released last Tuesday as part of an exchange during which Jordan handed Tripoli a Libyan jihadist. In January, gunmen had kidnapped five Egyptian diplomats and released them two days later. An employee in the Tunisian Embassy was also kidnapped in Tripoli in March.

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Found in: security, libya, government, clashes, benghazi, army, ansar al-sharia, al-qaeda
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