By Sami Zaptia.
London, 26 March 2020:
Faiez Serraj, the internationally recognized Prime Minister of Libya, claimed responsibility for the failed military operation ‘‘Peace Storm’’ that forces aligned to his government carried out yesterday in an attempt to take the north western Wittia airbase held by the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA).
The LNA claim they have repulsed the attack and conducted their own counter offensive taking several towns in the north eastern region, including the Zuwara and the Libyan-Tunisian border crossing, Ras Ejdair. The control over Zuwara and Ras Ejdair are being denied.
In his statement accepting responsibility for the offensive as Commander-in-Chief of the (Western-based) Libyan Army, Serraj paid tribute to the ‘‘Libyan army forces and the supporting force (militias) that carried out their tasks today efficiently and efficiently through operation “Peace Storm”.
He stressed that with this offensive operation, a recent rarity by the forces defending Tripoli, confirms that his aligned forces ‘‘will respond to the continuing violations of the truce’’ and that his aligned forces ‘‘will not stand idly by’’. As a result, he stated that ‘‘this is precisely what happened’’ where he ‘‘ordered a strong respond to repeated terrorist attacks on civilians’’.
Serraj stressed that his government was ‘‘a legitimate, civil government that respects its obligations to the international community, but is, above all, committed to its people and has a duty to protect it, within the framework of the right to legitimate self-defence and within the limits of international law’’.
He added that ‘‘the premeditated bombing of the residential neighbourhoods of Tripoli did not stop during the truce and caused civilian casualties, including children and women, in disregard for the Security Council resolution, and for the Berlin Conference outcomes and in reckless disregard for the lives and security of Libyans’’.
Serraj went on state that the “Peace Storm” operation launched today was in consideration of the victims of the aggressive operations of (Khalifa Hafter’s) terrorist militias and his accompanying terrorist mercenaries. He concluded by adding that his aligned forces ‘‘will respond strongly to the sources of any aggression against us’’.
The Wittia aggressive military operation by forces defending Tripoli against the 4 April 2019 offensive launched by Hafter’s forces comes on the back of intensified recent shelling of Tripoli by Hafter’s forces. It also comes on the back of a ”humanitarian pause” in fighting called for by UNSMIL and the international community that ostensibly both sides had agreed to.
The increased fighting by both sides is also put into an even sharper perspective as it comes as Libya announced its first case of Coronavirus two days ago. It also comes as both sides of the political divide seem to be making visible progress in mitigating and preparing for Covid19.
Meanwhile, Libya’s oil blockade continues since 17 January in the lead up to the Berlin Libya conference. The NOC had attributed the closures to the pro Khalifa Hafter forces guarding the oilfields and ports. The blockade has lost Libya nearly US$ 4bn in revenues, the country’s National Oil Corporation reports.