Eastern Libyan military says controls former Tripoli airport

A spokesman said eastern Libyan forces seized the Tripoli International Airport seen from the front on Friday

A spokesman said eastern Libyan forces seized the Tripoli International Airport seen from the front on Friday

Libya edged closer to full-blown civil war on Friday as forces of an eastern commander clashed with pro-government militias near the capital, Tripoli, and an effort by the United Nations chief failed to stop the offensive.

The leader of forces in eastern Libya has ordered them to march on the capital Tripoli, the base of the internationally recognised government.

Hifter's forces, which calls itself the Libyan National Army, pushed forward toward the capital and clashed with militias who support the United Nations -installed and Western-backed government.

But on Thursday, LNA forces took Gharyan, about 80 kilometres south of Tripoli, after skirmishes with forces allied to Tripoli-based, UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

"We reiterate our full and united support to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Special Representative of the Secretary General Ghassan Salamé as the UN seeks to help Libyans overcome Libya's political stalemate, and help Libyans chart a path toward credible and peaceful elections as soon as possible, as agreed by the Libyan parties in Paris in May 2018 and in Palermo in November 2018".

"My aim remains the same: avoid a military confrontation", Guterres earlier said on Twitter.

There were conflicting reports that Gen Haftar's forces had entered the town of Gharyan, 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli. He said five of his troops had been killed. The LNA said in the evening it had taken control of Tripoli's airport.

The UN Security Council on Friday called on Libyan forces under Khalifa Haftar to halt their advance on Tripoli, warning the military move was putting Libya's stability at risk.

There are now reports troops have taken the capital's airport, which has been closed since 2014 - although these are disputed.

In another setback, forces allied to Tripoli took 145 LNA fighters prisoner in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, a western commander, MohamedAlhudair, told Reuters.

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After Gen Haftar's announcement, his forces moved towards the capital from several directions, one of his spokesmen said.

The offensive is a setback for the United Nations and Western nations trying to mediate between Serraj, 59, who comes from a wealthy business family, and military veteran Haftar.

They met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss power-sharing.

The UAE, however, joined Western countries in expressing its deep concern about the fighting.

Russian Federation said it was not helping Haftar's forces and that it supported a negotiated political settlement that ruled out any new bloodshed.

"We need to throw water on the fire, not petrol on the fire".

Fearing a spillover of refugees, neighboring Tunisia has tightened its control over its border, said its defense ministry.

Former colonial power Italy, which lies across the Mediterranean and has been a destination for migrants, was very anxious, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.

"The U.N.is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the U.N.is committed to supporting the Libyan people", said Guterres in his tweet.

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