Category: Rebellious Land of Libya

April 18, 2017

ROME (AP) — Warm weather and calm seas usually spur smugglers to send migrants across the Mediterranean come spring. But aid groups say another timetable might be behind a weekend spike: the looming start of beefed-up Libyan coast guard patrols designed to prevent migrants from reaching Europe.

Over Easter weekend, rescue ships plucked some 8,360 people from 55 different rubber dinghies and wooden boats off Libya’s coast, Italy’s coast guard said. Thirteen bodies were also recovered. While such numbers are not unheard-of for this time of year, they come as Italy is preparing to deliver patrol boats to Libya as part of a new European Union-blessed migration deal.

Italy and Libya inked a deal in February calling for Italy to train Libyan coast guard officers and to provide them with a dozen ships to patrol the country’s lawless coasts. EU leaders hailed the accord as a new commitment to save lives and stem the flow of migrants to Europe, where the refugee influx has become a pressing political issue.

Aid groups, however, have criticized it as hypocritical and cruel, arguing that migrants who have already endured grave human rights abuses in Libya will face renewed violence, torture, sexual assault and other injustices if they are returned by the Libyan coast guard. Doctors Without Borders called it “delusional” while even the Vatican’s own Caritas charity said it was worrisome.

International Organization of Migration spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said improved weather conditions certainly are fueling renewed flows in recent days. But he said smugglers are also telling their customers, “‘You have to hurry up and leave the country right now because otherwise in a couple of months you will be rescued by the Libyan coast guard and you will be sent back,’ which is the last things that migrants would like to do.”

The United Nations refugee agency also cited the pending arrival of Italian patrol boats as a possible cause for the weekend’s high numbers, although spokeswoman Barbara Molinario said it was too early in the season to identify trends.

“For now it’s premature, even if 8,300 in 55 operations is a high number,” Molinario said. Overall, Some 35,700 people have been rescued in the central Mediterranean route in 2017, up from 24,974 in 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said. Molinario noted that the numbers are constantly in flux and a week or two of poor weather could alter the year-on comparison. The IOM reports some 900 people are known to have died so far this year.

Some 800 people rescued over the weekend arrived in Sardinia on Tuesday, where officials struggled to find accommodation for them after some 900 were brought to the island by rescue boats last month. They hailed from Syria, Egypt and Libya, as well as more than a dozen other African countries.

The entry into force of the new Libyan patrols could heighten tensions that have already flared between the European Union and humanitarian organizations, which have assumed increasing role in rescuing migrants as their vessels tend to patrol closer to Libya’s territorial waters, and their numbers have skyrocketed in the last two years.

The European border agency Frontex has said these humanitarian aid ships in 2016 were responsible for 40 percent of all rescues, up from 5 percent a year earlier. Frontex has essentially accused them of encouraging smugglers to set migrants off in increasing numbers and on increasingly flimsy vessels, since rescue is so close at hand.

“While there is no question that saving lives is an obligation of whoever operates at sea … it seems the Libyan smugglers are taking full advantage of this fact, and they do so with impunity,” Frontex spokeswoman Izabella Cooper said.

The aid groups have denied being in cahoots with smugglers, but Catania’s chief prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, testified to parliament last month about the phenomenon, in particular the funding behind the aid groups’ operations.

Cooper says there are both “push and pull” factors at play in the Libyan migration saga, with wars, poverty and famine pushing the migrants to Libya and the relative ease with which they then can reach Europe pulling them to make the risky crossing.

But behind it all is money: Europol reported that smugglers made some 5-6 billion euros in 2015, a peak year for arrivals in the EU, making it one of the most profitable activities for organized criminals in Europe. On the Libyan end, an EU military task force reported in December that Libyan coastal communities earned around 270-325 million euros a year from smuggling operations.

Trisha Thomas in Rome contributed to this report.


SIRTE – Escalating tensions between rival Libyan armed forces threaten to plunge the North African country deeper into turmoil only weeks after the fall of the Islamic State group’s bastion Sirte.

The deeply tribal nation has been sharply divided since the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival militias vying for influence and control of oil resources.

The power struggle pits an administration based in eastern Libya, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, against a UN-brokered unity government in Tripoli supported by militias from the western city of Misrata.

“The situation is most likely going to escalate further given that the voices of war are now the loudest” after an air strike by Haftar’s forces against the Misrata militias, analyst Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council said.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is the centerpiece of Western hopes to stem an upsurge of jihadism in Libya, but it has failed to assert its authority across the country.

The rival authority in the east has refused to cede power and has its own armed forces, which call themselves the Libyan National Army (LNA) and are led by Haftar.

Pro-GNA fighters mainly from the Western town of Misrata drove IS from Sirte in December, capping a deadly months-long campaign for Kadhafi’s hometown.

The Misrata militias include hardliners determined to fight Haftar’s army.

The LNA has battled jihadists in second city Benghazi for more than two years and blames Misrata militias of backing diehard extremists.

On December 7, two days after Sirte’s liberation, tensions flared when hardline Misrata militias joined an attack against Haftar’s forces launched by an alliance of Islamist and tribal fighters.

– Fears of IS regrouping –

The assault on a town near Libya’s “oil crescent” — where Haftar had seized four export terminals from pro-GNA forces in September — was launched from Al-Jufra air base in southern Libya.

The LNA repelled it and since then has frequently bombarded the base, calling it a den of “terrorists”.

On Monday, an LNA air strike hit a military plane carrying senior Misrata military and political figures who were flying out of Al-Jufra, killing one and wounding several.

The Misrata militias dispatched reinforcements to Al-Jufra as well as the Sebha region further west.

Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy to Libya, said he was “alarmed by the tensions in Libya’s south” and urged all sides “to act with restraint and to resolve issues through peaceful dialogue”.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby warned that further fighting could embolden the Islamic State group and other jihadists to reorganize.

“We note with deep concern… renewed fighting between Libyans… fighting which we believe will only benefit Daesh (IS) and other violent extremists there,” he said.

“The truth is that to date, Libyan forces have made progress against Daesh in Sirte and in eastern Libya, and that’s what makes this renewed fighting here of concern,” Kirby added.

Despite the recapture of Sirte, which had been IS’s main base in Libya, the jihadist threat persists in the country where experts say IS cells are present in several other areas including Tripoli.

– Hardliners win support –

Eljarh said a confrontation between Misrata and Haftar’s forces could play out in Tripoli as well as the “oil crescent” and the southern region.

Such an outcome “will have a knock-on effect on Libya’s oil and water facilities adding to the suffering of the entire population especially in western Libya and the capital,” he added.

Eljarh said that the attack on the plane carrying Misrata dignitaries had inflamed even the most moderate factions in the western city.

“Hardliners … have now managed to successfully switch public opinion within Misrata in their favour” and could now mobilize public support against the LNA, he added.

Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Haftar was trying to form alliances with Libya’s powerful tribes to control the south of the country.

“The south is the most immediate flashpoint where Haftar is trying to replicate the strategy of tribal alliances and limited show of force that allowed him to capture the oil crescent in September,” he said.

“Sirte is another flashpoint with Misratan fears that Haftar will use tribal allegiances to strip Misrata of its gains on the ground,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.


December 12, 2016

Libya has seen protests growing across the country following a video which surfaced online of a woman being gang raped by members of one of the country’s many armed militias.

Demonstrations were held in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Sunday with protesters demanding that the rapists be punished and calling for the restoration of law and order. The protests continued today with hundreds of demonstrators marching to the city center calling for justice for the victim of the rape. Her fate remains as yet unknown.

The video of the rape was posted on social media three days ago by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade after the mobile phone which was used during the assault was taken from the commander of Al-Awashr Brigade, Salah Hubaishi; he was killed earlier this month. The Revolutionaries say that they are holding two of those involved in the rape.

The Presidency Council described those involved as “human wolves” and promised retribution for the rapists and anyone else involved in the attack. It has since ordered the Attorney General to investigate the “heinous crime” as a matter of urgency. It went against “Libya’s values, religion and culture,” the council insisted.

The townspeople of Tarhouna, where the woman came from originally, have threatened to attack Tripoli in revenge if those involved have not been handed over by today.

The Tripoli branch of the Libyan Women’s Union, meanwhile, has said that it holds all security organizations in the country responsible for the rape due to the complete collapse of security in Libya. Women’s organizations across Libya were supported by the UN Security Mission; it condemned the attack and reminded Libyans that rape is a grave violation of human rights.

Ironically, the incident came at the conclusion of a 16-day campaign against gender-based violence organised across the country by the Libya office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Monday 5 December 2016

The drawn-out capture of Sirte, the last major Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in Libya, has been completed after months of fighting and a stubborn resistance by snipers.

Rida Issa, a spokesman for the Misrata brigades, said they had led forces backed by US airstrikes to take the last ISIS-held buildings in the city. He said the brigades “control all of Sirte’s Ghiza Bahriya neighborhood and are still securing the area”.

ISIS fighters clinging on in a few dozen buildings in the district had earlier on Monday surrendered to Libyan forces, and at least three women had left militant-held ground, officials said.

In recent days, dozens of women and children had left the last group of buildings controlled by militants, Libyan forces said. But several women carried out deadly suicide attacks on Friday as they were being granted safe passage with their children.

ISIS commanders were also captured trying to escape by sea, along with some Tunisian fighters.

The militant group took over Sirte in early 2015 and at one point had access to 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline. The US claimed about 6,000 ISIS fighters were inside Sirte, but subsequent analysis suggested the true number was closer to 3,000.

The anti-ISIS fight in Sirte has been led by brigades from the western city of Misrata, who have taken heavy casualties, with the support of at least 470 US airstrikes since August.

The absence of any recognizable Libyan intelligence forces means the west has little idea where the defeated fighters escaping the siege may have fled over the past few months, either within Libya or the largely unguarded Libyan borders.

The capture of Sirte does little to help resolve the fundamental political problems dogging the Libyan Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

The GNA has little or no authority, and the Libyan parliament – the House of Representatives – has refused to pass the constitutional amendments necessary to bring the GNA fully into constitutional existence.

Although oil production is slowly rising, government financial reserves are depleted and the Libyan dinar is overvalued. Fighting between rival militias in the capital, Tripoli, has worsened in the past week, with many deaths.

In recent weeks, Russia has become more closely involved in trying to resolve the political stalemate by giving visible backing to Khalifa Haftar, the Egyptian-backed leader of the Libyan National Army. Western governments regard Haftar as an obstacle to developing a political consensus. Last week he met the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.

Russia has insisted it will not arm Haftar but believes he must be integral to any new political compromise, and a reshaping of the GNA.

Source: The Guardian.


Thu Nov 17, 2016

By Ayman al-Warfalli


At Benghazi University, graduation pictures shot at a wrecked campus symbolize hope for a return to normality in the city after more than two years of war.

It is a war in which the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) has been slowly prevailing against a coalition of Islamists and former revolutionaries. Its commander, Khalifa Haftar, is gaining political influence, his popularity boosted by the army’s advance.

“We can’t pursue our studies here but thanks to our army I’ve been able to return, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be standing here,” said Amal al-Obeidi, a law graduate. “The situation will get back to normal and we hold great hope in our army.”

But while the LNA’s progress has brought relative calm to parts of Benghazi, continued clashes and bomb attacks have exposed the limits of the army’s control and raised questions about its ambitions to dominate Libya’s rival factions.

While Obeidi spoke, the rumble of war could still be heard in the besieged district of Ganfouda, less than 2 km (1 mile) to the south. Residents across Benghazi struggle with deteriorating living conditions and critics are alarmed at the spread of military rule in the city where the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi began.

Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who fell out with him and returned to Libya during the revolution, is the figurehead for one of two loose alliances that began fighting for power in 2014. His rivals in the Islamist-leaning Libya Dawn faction took Tripoli that year but later splintered and largely swung behind the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which moved to the capital in March.

Haftar and an eastern parliament and government that back him have refused to endorse the GNA, becoming more confident as the GNA has struggled. Two months ago, they gained new momentum when the Libyan National Army seized oil ports south-west of Benghazi from a GNA-aligned faction, fuelling speculation that Haftar had western Libya – and Tripoli – in his sights.

Clashes in Benghazi have been contained to two or three areas. Some residents in the center of the port city of 700,000 feel safe for the first time in years, remembering the bombings and assassinations that preceded the May 2014 launch of Haftar’s Operation Dignity, his campaign against the Islamists, and the fighting that followed.

New measures include electronic traffic surveillance, car bomb detection squads and female police patrols.

“We have brought security back in more than 90 percent of the city,” said Saleh Huwaidi, head of Benghazi’s security administration. “We’re not denying that there are sleeper cells, but they aren’t easily able to activate.”

Such claims have been tested by recent events, however. In the past month two bomb attacks in Benghazi have struck prominent Haftar allies.


Violence has flared between the LNA and its main opponent, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). This week at least 38 LNA troops have died after Haftar launched his latest offensive, which included air strikes over parts of the city.

On Thursday the LNA said it had “liberated” the long-contested district of Guwarsha, with at least 18 of the LNA’s men killed in a single day’s fighting.

In Ganfouda, human rights groups estimate that more than 130 families have been trapped for months without access to fresh food by an LNA siege – though the army says it has offered them a chance to leave. When LNA air strikes have hit civilians, the army has accused its opponents of using human shields.

The LNA’s real power can be hard to gauge. Supporters say training and organization have improved, but the army’s strength depends on complex and shifting local alliances. Analysts attribute its breakthroughs in Benghazi against the BRSC and Islamic State partly to injections of material and intelligence support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and France.

Rumors swirl of counter attacks against the oil ports, Benghazi, and in the city of Derna, close to the Egyptian border, where the LNA is fighting a separate coalition and clashes resumed over recent days.

Wissam Bin Hamid, a BRSC leader who along with others has sought refuge in Tripoli, told Al Jazeera this week that his group’s goal remains “to secure Benghazi … remove the intimidation against people who live with Haftar’s militias, and allow the return of our displaced people and loved ones”.

Rivals accuse the LNA of stoking violence by branding all its opponents as terrorists. But as the LNA’s profile has grown in the east, criticizing or even questioning it has become risky. Bloggers and activists fear reprisals, and execution style killings have occurred in neighborhoods taken by the army.

The LNA has replaced municipal councils with military governors in Benghazi and at least seven other towns and cities, a move it says is necessary to restore order and bring back services. As elsewhere in Libya, those have been ruined by years of conflict and political turmoil.

But taking on a bigger role also carries a risk for Haftar and the army, said Mohamed Eljarh, an Atlantic Council analyst based in eastern Libya.

“I don’t know how they will manage to respond to the needs of the people, and they will increasingly be blamed for any shortcomings,” he said. After the recent bombings, “people are saying, ‘hey, LNA where are you?'”

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Giles Elgood)

Source: Reuters.


23 November 2016 Wednesday

Several members of the ISIL extremist group surrendered late Tuesday to forces loyal to Libya’s unity government following fierce clashes in the northern city of Sirte, according to a military source.

He went on to suggest that they had surrendered because they had run out of ammunition.

In a related development, the general hospital in Libya’s northwestern city of Misurata (located some 240 kilometers from Sirte) said in a statement that it had received the bodies of five Libyan soldiers killed in Sirte on Tuesday in clashes with ISIL.

Military sources also said that forces loyal to the unity government had recently killed at least 30 ISIL militants in Sirte.

The same sources went on to estimate that only 50 ISIL militants still remain in the coastal city.

Since May, forces loyal to Libya’s Tripoli-based Presidential Council have been trying to retake Sirte from ISIL, which captured the city in early 2015.

In September, Libyan forces wrested most of Sirte from the militants, who now remain concentrated in the city’s eastern districts.

Source: World Bulletin.


17 October 2016 Monday

The Presidential Guards of Libya’s UN-backed unity government has defected and joined a rival administration.

In a statement on Monday, the Guards said they have joined the salvation government of the Tripoli-based General National Congress.

The statement accused the unity government of siding with “putschists” – in reference to gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of forces aligned with another rival government based in Tobruk in eastern Libya.

“The UN-brokered political agreement and unity government was put forth in order to establish a place for Khalifa Haftar and enable him to rule Libya by force,” the statement said.

On Friday, forces loyal to the salvation government took over offices of the unity government in Tripoli after clashes with unity government troops.

The government, which stepped aside in March in favor of the UN-backed cabinet, said it plans to seize all other state facilities in Tripoli, including the central bank and ministries.

Libya has been wracked by turmoil since 2011, when a bloody uprising ended with the ouster and death of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government — one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli — each of which boasts its own military capacity and legislative assembly.

Last year, Libya’s rival governments signed a UN-sponsored agreement that resulted in the formation of a unity government that has largely failed to resolve the conflict.

Source: World Bulletin.


By Andrew V. Pestano

Aug. 11, 2016

TRIPOLI, Libya, Aug. 11 (UPI) — Libyan pro-government, U.S.-backed militias on Wednesday said they took control of the Islamic State’s remaining headquarters in the city of Sirte.

The militias’ offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte began in June, backed by U.S. airstrikes since Aug. 1 after weeks of stalemates.

The militias said its fighters were still hunting down scattered Islamic State militants hiding in Sirte’s residential neighborhoods — adding that the Ouagadougou Center, a heavily fortified IS headquarters, and a nearby hospital were taken.

The United States carried out at least 28 airstrikes to aid militias in Libya. A Pentagon official told The New York Times that while he could not confirm the IS headquarters in Sirte fell, there were no reports that suggested the militia’s claims were not true.

Libya’s Al-Ahrar TV broadcaster posted pictures on its Twitter account of what appears to be militia fighters celebrating victory outside of the Ouagadougou Center while posing with a flag. The militia supports the Government of National Accord, a governmental authority based in Tripoli that is backed by the United Nations.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


June 09, 2016

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Islamic State militants were retreating Thursday from their main bastion in Libya, as militiamen allied to a U.N.-brokered government pushed into the central city of Sirte, officials said.

Some militants reportedly shaved off their beards to escape while the pro-government fighters, mostly from the western Libyan city of Misrata, pushed into the city center in their tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. At a main roundabout, the militiamen dismantled the metal frame of what some Sirte residents had dubbed the “stage of horror” — a podium used by IS for public beheadings and extrajudicial killings during its reign of terror.

Videos circulated on social media show triumphant militiamen flashing victory signs and chanting “Allahu-Akbar” or “God is Great” as they drive around Sirte. The capture of Sirte capped a month-long offensive by the Libyan militiamen to take the IS stronghold — it was the only major IS-held city outside Syria and Iraq, and was seen as a possible fallback option for the capital of its self-styled caliphate. The IS extremists are currently struggling to fend off advances on a number of fronts, including in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa.

In Libya, militiamen from the western city of Misrata have been the main fighting force for the U.N.-brokered unity government that was installed in Tripoli earlier this year. For nearly four weeks, the militiamen have been advancing from the west and south against IS. The extremist group dispatched suicide bombers against the militiamen, who lost dozens of fighters last month.

On Wednesday, the militias pushed deeper into Sirte, which lies in the central part of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline. On Thursday, they reached the city’s key Zafarana roundabout, where they dismantled the stage where Human Rights Watch says IS killed at least 49 people.

Misrata-based media official Ahmed Hadiya said his forces found sinks full of shaved-off beards and long hair inside a Sirte school taken from IS, suggesting that the militants tried to get rid of their trademark looks before fleeing.

Left behind were also militant cell phones, IS paraphernalia and leaflets pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a Misrata fighter who shared photos he took of the items with The Associated Press. One of the photographs showed a graveyard that belonged to IS in Sirte, he said, declining to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

A militia commander, Ali bin Gharbiya, claimed in an audio message posted on Facebook that the victory against IS militants in Sirte was quick. “Except for a little bit of anti-aircraft fire, they immediately withdrew,” he says.

The pro-government forces’ next goal was the Ouagadougou gigantic convention center, another city landmark, Hadiya said. The center was the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s onetime favorite conference hall where he hosted lavish African and Arab summits. IS had turned it into its headquarters, raised its black banner over the center and held graduation ceremonies there for those who completed IS-organized religious sessions.

“The Daesh are cornered inside and around the center,” Hadiya said, using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group. “Our forces are preparing … to seize the center.” IS militants unexpectedly showed little resistance once the militiamen pushed into their bastion. This could signal either a tactical retreat or a reflection of the small size of IS fighters remaining inside the city — after Western officials have earlier estimated IS strength in Sirte to be over 5,000 men.

Ismail Bashir, a lawmaker from the town of Jufra, a nearly three-hour-drive south of Sirte, said the Sirte “offensive showed (Islamic State’s) real size and capabilities; their collapse was really dramatic.”

IS and other extremists have exploited the chaos that followed the 2011 overthrow of Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising, establishing strongholds just across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. Libya meanwhile sunk deeper into turmoil, with the country’s feuding factions splitting it into two parliaments and rival governments.

This year, Western nations have thrown their support behind the U.N.-backed government in hopes of ending the rivalry between authorities based in the capital, Tripoli, and in the country’s far east. According to Ziad Hadia, who represents Sirte in the parliament based in eastern Libya, more than 2,000 IS fighters are thought to remain in the city. Foreign fighters, mostly from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa, account for more than 85 percent of the fighters, he added.

The Western-backed unity government, in the absence of an organized and unified army, has depended on the Misrata militias, among the country’s most powerful. Meanwhile, another force that answers to army leader Khalifa Hifter, based in the country’s east, has announced that it has deployed fighters south of Sirte. A third armed group, which has declared its loyalty to the U.N.-backed government, on Thursday took the town of Hawara, east of Sirte, from IS. The group has also taken other small towns located between Sirte and an oil-rich area in eastern Libya in recent weeks.

Hifter has also been battling Islamic militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and the former IS stronghold of Darna, where his forces have carried out airstrikes. On Thursday, four civilians were killed, including three children, when an airstrike hit a storehouse in a crowded area of Darna, according to the city’s lawmaker Hamid Al-Bandag.

Hadiya said the assault on Sirte has cost the Misrata militiamen the lives of 130 fighters and that about 400 have been wounded. Among the fatalities were two former government ministers who took up arms to battle IS, Mohammed Sawalem and Abdel-Rahman al-Kissa.

Before he was killed in Sirte, al-Kissa said on his Facebook page that fighting IS was a “gift from God … this is a sacred war.”

Michael reported from Cairo.


AMMONNEWS – Under His Majesty King Abdullah’s directives, an eight-year-old Libyan boy arrived in Amman on Tuesday night to receive treatment at the King Hussein Medical Center.

Siraj Salem, who suffers from a brain tumor, will undergo the necessary medical tests and diagnosis before receiving treatment.

Source: Ammon News.