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Battle Intensifies For Libyan Capital As West Calls For Truce

Fighters from the self-styled Libyan National Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar
Fighters from the self-styled Libyan National Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar

The battle for the Libyan capital, Tripoli, has intensified even as the international community calls for an immediate end to hostilities.

More than 30 people have been killed since fighting broke out on April 4, when militia commander Khalifa Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

The United Nations said on April 8 that around 2,800 people had been displaced by clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped.

The UN, United States, European Union, and Russia have all called for a cease-fire, a halt to Haftar's advance on Tripoli, and return to political negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on April 7 that Washington was "deeply concerned" about the battle near Tripoli and was seeking an "immediate halt" to Haftar's offensive.

"This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans," Pompeo's statement said.

The EU's foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on April 8 called for a "humanitarian truce" and to "avoid any further military action and escalation and a return to the political track."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on April 8 that Moscow was calling "on all sides to reject actions that could provoke bloodshed in battle and the deaths of civilians."

According to the Health Ministry of Libya's UN-backed government, 11 people were killed and 23 wounded by fighting on April 7 in the southern part of Tripoli between government forces and Haftar's Russia-backed forces. The ministry did not give details about whether the casualties were civilians or fighters.

Before those casualties were announced, the Tripoli-based government said at least 23 people had been killed and 27 wounded on both sides, including civilians, since April 4.

Casualties from fighting on April 7 were announced after Haftar's forces said they carried out an air strike near Tripoli Airport on the southern outskirts of the capital, escalating the battle despite calls for a truce from the United Nations.

Meanwhile, forces of the internationally backed Prime Minister Fayez Serraj said on April 7 that they launched a counterattack against Haftar's fighters, code-named Operation Volcano of Anger, in a bid to "cleanse all Libyan cities from aggressors and illegitimate forces."

Haftar's forces are allied with a self-declared administration in Libya's eastern city of Tobruk that is a rival to Serraj's unity government.

Russia has been a key supporter of Haftar, along with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

France's AFP news agency reported that Russia on April 7 blocked a formal UN Security Council statement in line with Pompeo's call for Haftar's forces to halt their advance on Tripoli.

That draft statement also "called for those who undermine Libya's peace and security to be held to account," AFP reported.

The battle for Tripoli marks a sharp escalation of a power struggle that has gone on since longtime Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011.

In another sign of the deteriorating situation, the UN said on April 7 it had temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from the country due to "security conditions on the ground."

A small contingent of U.S. troops has been in Libya in recent years to help local forces combat Islamic State extremists and Al-Qaeda militants, as well as to protect diplomatic facilities.

"The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable," said U.S. Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command.

He did not provide details on the number of U.S. troops that have been withdrawn or on how many remain within the country.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and BBC