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Forces led by Khalifa Hifter have announced they’ll halt fighting against the rival, UN-backed government in Libya during Ramadan, following international appeals. Hifter’s forces have also lost strategic ground.

A spokesman for Libya’s eastern-based forces said Wednesday that they would cease fire during the rest of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“The General Command announces a pause in all military operations from its side, and any breach by the terrorist militias will be met with immediate and harsh response,” Ahmed al-Mosmari, who represents the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter, said.

The move was in response to international appeals for a humanitarian truce during Ramadan and, according to news agency AP, so authorities could focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Libya has been torn between two rival administrations – the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and a parallel administration based in the eastern city of Benghazi which is aligned with forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter.

The most recent round of fighting began in April last year when Hifter’s forces launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the GNA.

Violence has escalated in recent weeks with the warring sides accusing each other of shelling civilian neighborhoods. In recent days, the GNA declared its forces had made gains by recapturing two strategic cities west of Tripoli from Hifter’s forces. Reuters reported that the pro-GNA forces were supported by Turkish military drones that targeted eastern supply lines.

The truce announcement comes amid political uncertainty in the eastern camp after Hifter said on Monday that he would no longer recognize a UN-brokered 2015 power-sharing deal. Hifter said the agreement has “destroyed the country,” and is now “a thing of the past.”

The acting UN envoy in Libya, Stephanie Williams, on Tuesday called for a humanitarian truce during Ramadan which could pave the way for a permanent cease-fire.

Libya has been embroiled in conflict and lawlessness since the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Ghadafi in 2011. Despite pledges made at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year, the chaos has worsened in recent weeks.The clashes have also complicated Libya’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. So far the country has reported 61 cases and two deaths. The World Health Organization said Tuesday that shelling and water shortages near Tripoli are “just some of the threads that impede our work to protect innocent people from COVID-19 and other health risks.”



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