Fighting Rages Near Libya's Capital

Fighting Rages Near Libya's Capital

CAIRO (AP) -- Heavy fighting raged over the past 24 hours between rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter, who is attempting to take control of the capital Tripoli, and an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported government based there, officials said Saturday.

The fresh bout of fighting comes after Hifter, the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, declared Thursday that the "zero hour" of the battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months since he began his offensive to take the city.

Mercenary fighters on both sides played a crucial role in the most recent offensive.

The LNA media office shared footage of reinforcements arriving in Tripoli, including ground troops and armored vehicles, and of clashes in the southern areas. It said Hifter's forces took control of al-Tawghaar town, just south of the city. However, Tripoli-based forces disputed the claim.

The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In the chaos that followed, the country was divided, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli and a rival government in the east aligned with the LNA.

A spokesman for the LNA, Ahmed al-Mesmari, said the LNA also launched airstrikes overnight against an air base at the Air Force Academy in the western city of Misrata, targeting military warehouses allegedly for Turkish-made drones used by Tripoli-allied militias in the fighting.

Misrata, the second largest city in western Libya, is home of fierce militias opposing Hifter. These militias have been critical in defending Tripoli.