Libya's Haftar declares 'jihad' against Turkish troops

Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar has urged all Libyans to take up arms against Turkish troops. While declaring "jihad," Haftar said that the issue is no longer a question of liberating Tripoli from militias, but of "facing a colonizer," accusing Ankara of wanting to "regain control of Libya." "We accept the challenge and declare jihad and a call to arms," he also said.

Duvar English/Reuters

Commander of eastern Libyan forces has called on Libyans to take up arms against Turkey, days after Ankara approved a motion on deploying troops to the country.

"We accept the challenge and declare jihad and a call to arms," said Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar in a televised address on Jan. 3.

Haftar's call comes in response to a prospective military intervention from Turkey aimed at shoring up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under sustained attack since April by Haftar, whose self-styled LNA supports a rival administration based in the east of the country.

Turkey's parliament on Jan. 2 approved the deployment of troops to Libya after it received a request for military support from Sarraj's government, which is recognized by the international community.

'Defend our land and our honor'

In his speech, Haftar urged "all Libyans" to bear arms, "men and women, soldiers and civilians, to defend our land and our honor," Al Jazeera reported.

He said it was no longer a question of liberating Tripoli from militias, but of "facing a colonizer," accusing Ankara of wanting to "regain control of Libya," a former province of the Ottoman Empire.

The GNA has sought Turkey's support as it fends off an offensive by Haftar's forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya in early 2019.

Attack on military academy kills at least 30

Meanwhile, at least 30 people were killed and 33 others wounded in an attack on a military academy in the Libyan capital late on Jan. 4, the health ministry of the Tripoli-based government said in a statement on Jan. 5.

Forces allied with the GNA described the attack on the military camp at Al-Hadhba as "an aerial bombing" launched by their eastern rivals. An LNA spokesman denied involvement.

GNA Health Minister Hamid bin Omar told Reuters earlier in a phone call that the number of dead and wounded was still rising. Tripoli ambulance service spokesman Osama Ali said some body parts could not be immediately counted by forensic experts.

Earlier, the ambulance service appealed for a temporary ceasefire to allow its crews to retrieve the bodies of five civilians killed on As Sidra Road in southern Tripoli and to evacuate families.

Emergency teams withdrew after coming under fire while trying to access the area on Jan. 4, it said.

The GNA Foreign Ministry called for referring Haftar and his aides to the International Criminal Court on charges of committing "crimes against humanity", adding that it will call for an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the alleged crimes.

Turkey, Qatar condemn the attack

Qatar, which supports GNA, said on Jan. 4 that the attack "may amount to a war crime and crimes against humanity."

Ankara, which last week passed a bill approving a troop deployment in Libya to support Tripoli, also condemned the attack and said the international community needs to take steps to achieve a ceasefire.

"It is crucial for the international community to urgently take necessary steps to halt external support for the pro-Haftar army and its attacks and establish a ceasefire in Libya," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned the attack saying that "rising escalation… further complicates the situation in Libya and threatens the chances of returning to the political process."

In response to the attack, GNA allied forces have targeted the LNA air base of Al-Wattia in an air strike, around 159 km southwest of Tripoli, a spokesman said in a statement.

Two sources in Haftar forces said four fighters were killed in a drone strike early on Jan. 5.

An increase in air strikes and shelling in and around Tripoli has caused the deaths of at least 11 civilians since early December and shut down health facilities and schools, the U.N. mission in Libya said on Jan. 3.

Rockets and shelling also shut down Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Jan. 3.

UN calls for ceasefire

On Jan. 3, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

He warned that the delivery of foreign support to warring parties would "only deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a peaceful and comprehensive political solution."

The parliament which moved to the east in 2014 voted to provide Haftar with emergency funding on Jan. 4.

The pro-Haftar chamber also held a series of symbolic votes against the GNA and Turkey, which struck two pacts on maritime boundaries and military cooperation in November.

Saudi Arabia condemns 'Turkish escalation in Libya'

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has condemned "the recent Turkish escalation in Libya" and the Turkish parliament's approval of a troop deployment to Libya and considers it a violation of U.N. Security Council decisions, the foreign ministry said in a statement on the state news agency SPA.

The statement added that "the kingdom affirms that this Turkish escalation poses a threat to the security and stability in Libya and a threat to Arab and regional security, as it is an interference in the internal affairs of an Arab country in flagrant violation of international principles and covenants."