Forces loyal to former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar claimed an air strike on an armed group near Tripoli on Monday, a senior commander said, in what would be the first air strikes in western Libya for three weeks.
A resident of Gharyan town, south of Tripoli, heard jets attacking targets. Arab TV channel al-Arabiya also reported a strike on Gharyan positions of an Islamist-leaning group from the western city of Misrata, which seized Tripoli last month.
War planes attacked Misrata forces in August just before they took the capital. Haftar also claimed that attack, but U.S. officials said the planes belonged to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – two Arab countries which have cracked down on Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to the Misrata forces.
Three years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is divided. The government and elected parliament have relocated to Tobruk in the far east since losing control of the capital, and a rival assembly and government has been set up by the Misrata force in Tripoli.
Haftar emerged as a renegade commander fighting Islamists but has recently entered into a frail alliance with the government in Tobruk, part of the chaos and ever-changing alliances in post-Gaddafi Libya.
“We attacked positions of the Libya Dawn,” Saqer al-Jouroushi, Haftar’s air defence commander, told Reuters. He was referring to the Misrata-led alliance which took Tripoli.
“They conducted air strikes on our revolutionaries”, a Gharyan city official close to the Misrata forces said, accusing Egypt and the UAE of being behind the attacks.
However, analysts doubt that Haftar can conduct air strikes with planes from his bases in the east as Libya has only a tiny and outdated air force damage during the 2011 civil war.
Diplomats say Libya is turning into a conflict zone for competing regional powers as the country faces the prospect of becoming a failed state or even descending into civil war.