Heavy clashes in southern suburbs of Libyan capital

Heavy clashes in southern suburbs of Libyan capital
Heavy clashes in southern suburbs of Libyan capital

Heavy clashes broke out in the southern districts of the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday, with shelling audible in the city centre, residents said, as the death toll from two weeks of fighting between the country's rival governments rose to 220.

The spike inviolence happened after the White House said on Friday that President DonaldTrump spoke by phone earlier in the week with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar,who started an offensive against Tripoli on April 3.

Thedisclosure of the call and a U.S. statement that it "recognized FieldMarshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya'soil resources" has boosted the commander's supporters and enraged hisopponents.

Westernpowers and the Gulf have been divided over a push by Haftar's forces to seizeTripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire.

Despite theoffensive, Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA) force has not been able to breachthe southern defences of forces allied to the internationally recognizedadministration based in the city.

On Saturday,shelling was louder and more frequent on Saturday than in previous days andaudible even in central districts more than 10 km (6 miles) away from thefrontline, residents said.

Both sidesclaimed progress in southern Tripoli, but no more details were immediatelyavailable.

A Reuters TVcameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling butsaw no apparent major change in the frontline.

Militarysolution unbeneficial

On Friday,two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. Thefighting has killed 220 people an wounded 1,066, the World Heath organization(WHO) said.

It wasunclear why the White House waited several days to announce Monday's phonecall.

On Friday,Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said "a military solutionis not what Libya needs." He said he supported Haftar's "role incounterterroism" and that Washington needed Haftar's "support inbuilding democratic stability there in the region."

On Thursday,both the United States and Russia said they could not support a U.N. SecurityCouncil resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time.

Russiaobjects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latestflare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlierthis month, diplomats said.

The UnitedStates did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution,which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties toensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.

The country has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

While the Tripolibattle continued, municipal elections took place in seven towns, mainly in thesouth, the election commission said.

The vote ispart of elections for local councils across Libya. Security differs from regionto region as the country is controlled by rival governments, tribesmen andarmed groups.

In westernLibya polls in several communities had been postponed a week ago due to thefighting.   

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