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Haftar's forces withdraw as much as 3km from Tripoli battlefront

Spokesperson for Libyan National Army says withdrawal to allow citizens freer movement around Eid al-Fitr
Military vehicles of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces head out to the front line from Misrata (Reuters)

Forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar announced they had withdrawn as much as three kilometres from all frontlines in the Libyan capital Tripoli early on Wednesday, in a serious blow to their attempt to seize control of the city.

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Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesperson for Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) did not cite military losses as a reason for the pullback, however, and claimed the move was to allow citizens to move more freely during the end of Ramadan and in the run-up to the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

"We decided to move our forces in all battlefronts in Tripoli a distance of two to three kilometres," he said, according to Reuters.

He added that the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), whose forces the LNA are fighting, should do the same but did not say whether the LNA's own withdrawal was contingent on it doing so.

In its biggest advance in a year, the GNA on Monday captured al-Watiya airbase, an important LNA stronghold and its only major airbase near to Tripoli, along with an abandoned Russian-made Pantsir air defence system.

"We proudly announce the liberation of al-Watiya air base from criminal militias and terrorist mercenaries," Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said on Twitter on Monday.

"Today's victory will not be the end of the battle. Instead, it brings us closer to the big victory day, the day all cities and territories of Libya are free from the project of hegemony and repression."

LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari said the base had been abandoned as part of a long-planned strategic decision and that only old, obsolete equipment was left there.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said on Twitter that "Haftar's chance of success is now effectively zero" following his loss of the airbase. 

On Tuesday, the GNA took the towns of Badr and Tiji in western Libya as the LNA said it had moved out of some positions in Tripoli, where the front lines have been mostly static for nearly a year.

The eastern-based LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The GNA is backed by Turkey.

The acting United Nations Libya envoy on Tuesday urged the UN Security Council to pressure foreign actors to stop helping the warring parties there, warning the flood of arms and fighters into Libya would only intensify fighting.

The UAE said in a statement the only acceptable path forward in Libya involved "an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and a return to the political process".