Libya: NATO offices reportedly bombed
Security in Libya, which faces a general election next month, appeared to be again jeopardized by combat. According to a report from the Fides news service, NATO offices were bombed overnight on May 21. "We spent a quiet night, although I heard that the NATO offices linked to the European Union, that are here in Tripoli were bombed. Probably these two institutions were symbolically hit", said Vatican diplomatic representative Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire and explosions were reported during the early hours of May 21 near two military bases in the Libyan capital. "However, the situation is calm. There is therefore an apparent peace", said Martinelli.
Libya’s electoral commission announced on May 20 that Libyans will go to the polls on June 25 to elect a new parliament and replace the General National Congress, which is the top political authority in the oil-rich country. Complaints have emerged since the fall of dictator Muammar Khadafi three years ago that the General National Congress, and its claims to both legislative and executive powers, has stymied efforts to quell unrest in Libya. The GNC has accused former army general Khalifa Haftar, who led an assault in Benghazi last week, of seeking a coup d’etat. Haftar has garnered growing support for his campaign attempting a coup. But the former general, who is also a U.S. citizen, has won widening support for his campaign from within and without the regular army.
Opposition forces vowed to resist any move against them by Haftar’s forces in Tripoli and Benghazi. Haftar’s allies stormed parliament on the weekend, forcing legislators to change venue to a hotel in Tripoli. The interim parliament sparked widespread public outrage when it extended its own mandate until December. The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries pledged to defend the parliament by force if necessary. Ansar al Sharia, a blacklisted by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, vowed to resist any renewed assault by Haftar’s men on its positions in Benghazi. Haftar’s forces pulled out of Benghazi after the May 16 fighting which killed at least 79 people. He vowed to re-enter the city and cleanse it of “terrorists” and has won the support of army special forces who have suffered mounting losses. “A confrontation is now inevitable to defend our city and our land. We will act with force against anyone who enters the city or attacks it,” Ansar al Sharia said. The group was blacklisted by the State Department in January 2014.
The State Department says it is watching Libya closely with regard to the security of the embassy even while no evacuation has been announced. “The situation on the ground, obviously, could change quickly, and so we’ll continue to evaluate and update our posture as needed,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on May 19. The country appears to be devolving into civil war as Haftar’s forces confront Ansar al-Shariah. The latter group has been blamed for the September 11, 2012 attack that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The US embassy in Tripoli was closed in August 2013 as a precaution when the State Department said there was an increased risk of attack by Al Qaeda and its affiliates. More than two dozen embassies and other diplomatic facilities were temporarily closed. However, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli reopened and is currently operating normally. Algeria and Saudi Arabia have closed their embassies in recent days. Oil company personnel, from Algeria for instance, have departed and a drop in Libyan oil production has been blamed for a spike in petroleum prices.
Recently, the Defense Department moved aircraft and dozens of Marines to a NATO base in Sicily. The leathernecks were deployed from a base in Spain that was created in response to the Benghazi attacks. The war that brought down the dictatorship in 2011 was backed by the U.S. and NATO.
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