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Libya's GNA forces 'launch offensive' to seize key airbase

Al-Watiya, southwest of Tripoli, would be a major strategic loss for Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army
Libya's pro-government fighters gather at a position near the town of Garabulli, some 70 kms east of Tripoli (AFP)

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has launched an offensive to capture a key airbase southwest of Tripoli from the Libyan National Army (LNA), according to Anadolu Agency, days after rejecting a truce.

Al-Watiya airbase has been a major launchpad for LNA air strikes against GNA-held Tripoli, as part of an offensive launched by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar a year ago to capture the capital.

In recent weeks pro-GNA forces have turned the tables, capturing a string of cities west of Tripoli.

Heavy artillery bombing has paved the way for GNA forces to kick off a ground operation to seize the base, a government source told Turkey's official state media agency on condition of anonymity.

The airbase is located 125km west of Tripoli and has served as the headquarters from which the LNA launches attacks in Libya's west. Since falling to Haftar in 2014, it has also been used as a key supply route by the LNA.

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"Clashes are raging on near the base," the source told Anadolu.

Libya observers say a GNA capture of al-Watiya would be a huge strategic loss for Haftar and further derail his stalled offensive.

GNA military spokesperson Mohammed Kununu said in a statement on Tuesday that air raids had been carried on the Gariyat region, around 270 kilometers south of Tripoli, targeting a vehicle carrying LNA fighters and a supply truck.

Kununu did not say if the attack resulted in casualties.

Last week, an LNA spokesman said Haftar's forces were adopting a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following requests by the international community and "friendly countries". However, Haftar's critics said he was only calling for a truce now his forces were on the back foot.

The GNA on Thursday rejected the truce announcement, saying it would keep fighting.

The statement said the UN-recognised government did not trust Haftar based on previous ceasefire breaches and following his speech days earlier in which he unilaterally declared himself Libya’s ruler.

Libya's conflict has drawn in several foreign powers backing separate sides, depsite a UN arms embargo. Turkey has supplied the GNA with Syrian fighters, equipment and drones, while the LNA has secured military and financial backing from the UAE, Egypt and Russia.