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Battle for Libya's Tripoli is 'start of long and bloody war', UN envoy says

Ghassan Salame called for end to weapons shipments into Libya, which has been under arms embargo since 2011
Forces loyal to Libyan general Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in early April (AFP)

The United Nations envoy for Libya has warned that the battle for Tripoli is "just the start of a long and bloody war", while calling for an immediate halt to arms shipments to all parties involved in the conflict.

Ghassan Salame told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that "many countries" were supplying weapons to both the UN-recognised government in Tripoli and to forces loyal to Libyan general Khalifa Haftar.

The two sides have been battling for control of the Libyan capital Tripoli since Haftar's forces launched a military offensive there on 4 April.

Fierce clashes with fighters allied with Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) on the outskirts of the city have slowed Haftar's fighters' advance, however.

"I am no Cassandra, but the violence on the outskirts of Tripoli is just the start of a long and bloody war on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, imperilling the security of Libya's immediate neighbours and the wider Mediterranean region," said Salame, as reported by AFP.

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Libya has been under an arms embargo since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that led to the removal and killing of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But the UN says that embargo has been regularly violated by different groups involved in the ongoing conflict.

While Salame on Tuesday did not name the countries shipping weapons into the North African nation, several states have for years facilitated the flow of military equipment and other arms into Libya.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have provided support and arms to Haftar's forces, including helicopters and aircraft, while Turkey and Qatar have backed the GNA.

On the weekend, a military coalition tied to the GNA said it had received a shipment of military hardware despite the embargo.

It posted pictures and videos on its Facebook pages that showed what appeared to be dozens of Turkish-made BMC Kirpi armoured vehicles in Tripoli port, AFP reported.

The Turkish government did not respond to requests for comment following that report, Reuters said.

In December last year, the Turkish and Libyan governments said they would launch a joint probe into illegal Turkish weapons shipments to Libya.

'State of chaos'

Such shipments "do not represent the policy or approach of the Turkish state", Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the time. "We are going to take firm measures on this subject," he said.

Without immediate action to stop the flow of arms, however, "Libya will descend into civil war which could potentially lead to a [tumultuous] all-against-all state of chaos or partition of the country", Salame warned on Tuesday.

Salame also urged the UN Security Council to set up a commission of inquiry to "determine who has taken up arms" and look into war crimes allegations.

More than 75,000 people have been internally displaced due to the ongoing battle for Tripoli, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on 17 May.

More than 100,000 men, women and children are trapped in frontline areas, UN-OCHA said, while another 400,000 are in areas affected by the ongoing clashes.

"The use of explosive weapons – including artillery shelling and aerial bombardment – in populated areas continues to cause civilian casualties," the group said in a report