24 killed in intense Libya clashes, coup feared

24 killed in intense Libya clashes, coup feared
Sat May 17, 2014 09:36:21

Heavy clashes in Libya between two militia forces and army troops loyal to a rogue general in Libya have killed at least 24 people and injured scores of others, leading Libyan authorities to call the move a coup attempt and shut down Benghazi’s airport.

Military aircraft and helicopters fighting for General Khalifa Haftar were involved in the Friday clashes and were spotted flying over the key port city of Benghazi, Libyan security officials reportedly said, as cited in wire reports.

The reports further cited health authorities to put the number of casualties during the fighting at 24 dead and 124 wounded although the reported figures differ and an official count is yet to be released. 

"We have closed the airport for the safety of passengers as there were clashes in the city. The airport will be reopened depending on the security situation,” Director of Benghazi’s Benina Airport Ibrahim Farkash said.

General Haftar's troops reportedly surrounded the bases of a militia group called Rafallah al-Sahati and a militant group known as February 17, according to local authorities.

According to Haftar’s spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi, some Libyan military units have joined the fight against the militias in an operation he referred to as “Dignity of Libya.”

Meanwhile, the commander of the Rafallah al-Sahati brigade, Ismail al-Salabi, referred to the attack as a coup. Another commander, Fathi al-Obeidi, said Haftar's attack is "a rebellion against revolutionaries, the state and the legitimate revolt."

Meanwhile, reports also cite Libya's Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel-Salam Gadallah al-Obeidi as saying that he will ban any military forces from entering Benghazi to join Haftar. He described the unfolding events as a "coup."
In the wake of the recent unrest, Algeria has reportedly dispatched a team of Special Forces to evacuate its ambassador to Libya and embassy staff in a military plane after a militant threat to its embassy.

Following the ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, militias expanded in numbers, filling in the gap while Libya struggled with weak military and police forces.

Just over a year ago, Libya lost US$1 billion due to a disruption in oil production. Violent incidents involving rival armed groups fighting over who gets to guard Libyan oil and gas facilities have become more frequent in post-Gaddafi Libya. Heavily armed militias have seized oil facilities, and local tribes have demanded revenue or jobs while blockading oil fields and sea terminals.

Haftar was an army commander under Gaddafi until the 1980s, when he defected. Following Gaddafi’s ouster, Haftar was appointed to rebuild the Libyan military, but was removed shortly after.

Meanwhile, Libya's parliament remains split by rivalries, with little democratic reforms made since 2011. The country is now under the rule of its third prime minister since March, and a new constitution is still not ready.

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