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Peaceful protests supporting Haftar in Libya as violence continues

After 20 die in Benghazi attack, supporters of General Haftar take to streets on Friday
Explosions in Tripoli on 21 May leaving one dead and five injured (Anadolu Agency)

Hours after 20 members of a single family were wounded when a rocket slammed into their Benghazi home, protesters in several Libyan cities took to the streets in support of a renegade general's week-long campaign against the country's Islamist militias.

Termed "Friday of Dignity" by some on social media, street protests in support of General Khalifa Haftar's offensive which began in Benghazi last week were reported in the capital Tripoli, Benghazi, and Al-Marj. In Tripoli, peaceful crowds were said to be backing the country's army and police to stand up to militias and chanting 'dignity'

On Thursday, however, the head of parliament and General National Congress reportedly ordered an Islamist-inspired militia from Misrata known as the Libya Central Shield to protect the capital where pro-Haftar forces had entered. Libya Central Shield militiamen, according to witnesses, took positions inside army barracks in the south of the city. No fighting was reported, but it is clear that tensions are escalating as the operation continues.

In Benghazi, the 20 family members suffered shrapnel wounds when a rocket slammed into their home near an army base in Libya's Benghazi on Thursday night, medical and security sources said Friday.

The family's home lies close to the headquarters of the army's special forces unit in Benghazi, which is backing Haftar, who has vowed to crush Islamists in the city, a security official said.

Another rocket hit the base, but caused no casualties, the official said.

Haftar's operation began with an assault on Islamists in the city last Friday when at least 79 people were killed. The government has consequently branded him an outlaw and claims he is attempting a coup, but he insists he has no interest in power.

Islamists have been blamed for almost daily attacks in Benghazi since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. They have targeted foreigners and judges as well as security force personnel. The special forces, who have suffered heavy losses in the attacks, threw their support behind Haftar earlier this week.

According to Alarbi21, Haftar said in a statement on Thursday that he will be cooperating with Egypt to fight terrorism in both countries. He also added that Libya has the right to establish a strong army that would support the Egyptian army.

Russia Today reported on Thursday that Haftar will send Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders who have fled into Libya back to Egypt.

While Haftar has said that he has the support 70,000 soldiers, Libyan Muslim Brotherhood foreign policy representative Mohamed Abdel Malik told the Middle East Eye that Haftar’s factions do not have real strength, but only support from Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

"A few generals and officers here and there have pledge their support, as have some old Gaddafi factions," Malik said, "but overall, they are weak."

The only option left to bring security to the country, he added, is compromise and negotiation.

"A coup does not work in Libya. You cannot use force to enforce your political views because everyone has force. Everyone is pointing the gun," he said. "It's mutually assured destruction . . . This is where Haftar is unique. He thinks he can get away with war."