Haftars’ forces threaten to attack Turkish interests in Libya

This picture taken on June 28, 2019 shows the husk of a destroyed tank found at a camp that was used by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in Gharyan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2019

Haftars’ forces threaten to attack Turkish interests in Libya

  • Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive to take the capital in early April
  • Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011

BENGHAZI: Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar has threatened to attack Turkish interests and accused Ankara of backing his rivals after he suffered a major setback in his push to take the capital Tripoli.
Anti-Haftar forces that nominally back Libya’s internationally recognized government announced Wednesday they had retaken the strategic town of Gharyan in a surprise attack, seizing Haftar’s main supply base for his months-long offensive.
Haftar on Saturday promised a “tough response” and accused militias backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord of executing his wounded troops at the town’s hospital — allegations refuted by both the GNA and authorities in Gharyan.
Dozens of pro-Haftar fighters were killed in the clashes some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, with at least 18 taken prisoner, a GNA spokesman said.
AFP correspondents who toured Gharyan were shown signs of a hasty retreat by Haftar’s forces, who left behind their wounded, a command post, arms, ammunition and even food burning on stoves.
“The speed (of the attack), the surprise element and the revolt (by the area’s residents) sowed fear” in the ranks of Haftar’s fighters, General Ahmad Bouchahma, a senior GNA officer, said during a tour of the area.
Among the weaponry the GNA says it seized were US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles packed in wooden crates marked “armed forces of the United Arab Emirates,” a major buyer of American weapons and one of Haftar’s main international backers.
The US State Department said Saturday it was looking into the missile find.
“We take all allegations of misuse of US origin defense articles very seriously,” a spokesperson said on condition of anonymity. “We are aware of these reports and are seeking additional information.”
In retaliation for the defeat, Haftar ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) to target Turkish ships and companies, ban flights and arrest Turkish nationals in the country, his spokesman said.
General Ahmed Al-Mesmari accused Ankara of “directly” helping GNA forces “with its soldiers, planes and ships.”
He also accused Gharyan residents of “treason.”
The LNA, which holds eastern Libya and much of the country’s south, seized Gharyan two days before launching its offensive on Tripoli in early April.
Its initial lightning advance was quickly brought to a standstill in Tripoli’s southern outskirts as GNA-aligned militias rushed to defend the capital.

Both sides accuse each other of using foreign mercenaries and receiving military support from external powers, despite a UN arms embargo in place since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
Haftar has the backing of the UAE and Egypt and accuses Turkey and Qatar of supporting the GNA.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed his country backs the GNA and provides weapons to it under a “military cooperation agreement.”
He told reporters on June 19 that Turkish backing had allowed Tripoli to “rebalance” the fight against Haftar.
On Saturday, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan, Erdogan said he had no information on Haftar’s threat against Turkish assets.
“If there is an order like this from Haftar, my colleagues will study (it). We have already taken the necessary measures regarding this anyway, and after this, we will take much more different measures,” he said.
Since the fall of Gharyan, Haftar’s forces have carried out several air raids on Tripoli as GNA fighters push to keep up pressure on the LNA.
On Friday, GNA militias claimed they had launched another successful offensive, this time in Esbiaa, more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Tripoli.
But Mesmari said the attack was repulsed after a “very violent battle.”
Mesmari said orders had been given to the LNA’s air force “to target Turkish ships and boats in Libyan territorial waters.”
“Turkish strategic sites, companies and projects belonging to the Turkish state (in Libya) are considered legitimate targets by the armed forces,” he added.
“All Turkish nationals on Libyan territory will be arrested (and) all flights to and from Turkey will be banned.”
Regular flights to Turkey operate from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport and a second airport in the western city of Misrata, held by pro-GNA forces.
Mesmari did not explain how the flight ban could apply to areas not under Haftar’s control.


Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

Updated 22 February 2020

Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

  • Exports of medical equipment halted as supplies run low

BEIRUT: Lebanon is reducing flights to countries, including Iran, with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The decision to include Iran was taken after a Lebanese national, who was traveling from the city of Qom to Beirut, was diagnosed with the virus. Lebanese authorities asked the flight’s 150 passengers to self-quarantine for 14 days from the date they left Iran. 

Iran’s Health Ministry on Friday reported two more deaths among 13 new diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 virus, doubling the total number of deaths in the country. The virus has also spread to the UAE, Egypt and Israel. 

Thousands of Lebanese people travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Bizri, an infectious diseases specialist and a member of an emergency unit formed to counter the spread of the virus in Lebanon, said that while it was better to freeze some flights to Iran’s religious sites there remained challenges.

“It is easy to track down people who have returned from Iran through tour operators who have names and addresses, but our problem is with those who go to Iran for business (purposes), especially since the Lebanese do not need a visa to enter Iran, and these people cannot be reached to find out if they carried the virus to Lebanon or not,” he told Arab News. “The second problem that we face is at land-border crossings. There is a transport line between Lebanon and Iran through Syria and Iraq, and this matter needs urgent follow-up to monitor any cases that may enter Lebanon by land through legitimate or illegal crossings."

Two Iranian airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air, have two daily flights between Iran and Lebanon. Their passengers normally travel for religious purposes. 

The detection of coronavirus has overshadowed other events in Lebanon, such as the arrival of locust swarms and the new coalition government’s ongoing struggle to resolve the country’s social and political crises.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab chaired a meeting about the spread of the coronavirus. The meeting called for strict measures at Beirut airport and all border crossing stations, with those attending urging people not to panic. 

Face masks became scarce at pharmacies once the confirmed coronavirus case was reported. 

Dealers of medical equipment who had large quantities of the masks and other protective clothing had re-exported them in recent weeks, especially to countries battling the virus. The dealers were paid in US dollars - a boon as Lebanese banks are currently restricting dollar transactions - and they were able to buy medical equipment. 

Lebanon’s Economy Minister Raoul Neama issued a decision preventing the export of devices, equipment, or medical personal protective equipment against infectious diseases until further notice.

“The Consumer Protection Directorate will monitor the prices of this equipment in pharmacies and will be strict with violators in order to prevent any exploitation that aims to make unjustified profits at the expense of the Lebanese,” he said.

The price of one face mask in some pharmacies reached around $5, compared to its pre-crisis price of $0.25 or less.

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Al-Hassan visited government hospitals to see how ready they were to deal with coronavirus cases. 

“Fear is legitimate, so is caution, but excessive panic is unnecessary,” he said, emphasizing the need to strictly abide by procedures at the country’s entry points and border crossings. 

But fear of infection has not deterred people from demonstrating against corruption and institutions.

Mask-wearing protesters demonstrated in Beirut against banking policies under the slogan: “You will pay the price.”