Ankara has warned that it would deem the rebel forces of Libya’s renegade General Khalifa Haftar “legitimate targets” if they continue to attack Turkey’s interests and diplomatic missions in the violence-wracked North African country.
“If our missions and our interests in Libya are targeted, we will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets,” Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday, lambasting the United Nations for its alleged failure to take action over Haftar’s attacks.
Ankara had previously announced that the area around its embassy in the Libyan capital was shelled by Haftar’s forces.
“It is unacceptable for the United Nations to remain silent against this carnage any longer,” Turkey’s foreign ministry further said, adding, “Countries providing military, financial and political aid to Haftar are responsible for the suffering that the people of Libya are enduring and the chaos and instability the country is being dragged into.”
Turkey fully supports the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj — known as the Government of National Accord (GNA) — and has already signed a military deal with Tripoli, a move that infuriated Haftar, whose forces are branded by Ankara as “putschists.”
Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in Libya, namely the Government of National Accord — and another one based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar’s command.
The military commander, who lived in the United States for years, is supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Jordan, and launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year.
Despite fierce fighting, Haftar has so far failed to achieve his objective of ousting the Tripoli government and the offensive has stalled outside the city. Reports say that more than 1,000 have to date been killed in the violence.
International attempts to bring about peace between the two warring sides have also failed.
Turkey’s foreign ministry also said Haftar’s Saturday attacks on Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, the only working airport in the capital, which was part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital, were “war crime.”
The GNA said at least six civilians, including a child, were killed when rockets rained down on the airport.
Figures by the UN show that four fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Haftar-GNA conflict in the first three months of the current year have been caused by the so-called Libyan National Army’s ground fighting.
Early this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that the LNA plunged into a “period of regression” after NATO member Turkey began supporting the GNA.
“Even the efforts of countries that provide him (Haftar) with unlimited financial support and weapons will not be able to save him,” Erdogan said.
During an escalation of fighting in recent weeks, the GNA forces and their allied fighters, backed by Turkish-supplied drones, have managed to retake some territory from the LNA around the capital.
Last month, Haftar proposed a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, following requests by the international community and “friendly countries.” However, the GNA rejected the truce, saying it did not trust the strongman based on his previous ceasefire breaches, and that it would keep fighting.
Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster and killing of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.