Libya uprising: Former general Khalifa Hifter declares war on parliament and the Islamist militias

As his power base grows, Mr Hifter has branded his stunning offensive as a war on terrorism

The former general who is leading an armed uprising in Libya says that he will not negotiate with his rivals and will instead rely on force to achieve his objectives.

“We see that confrontation is the solution,” Khalifa Hifter said from his headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi. “I do not think talks will work with them.”

On Friday, Mr Hifter launched an offensive in Benghazi against Islamist militias that have been widely blamed for a string of killings. As least 70 people were killed and dozens injured in the most intense fighting since the revolt that deposed the dictator Muammar Gaddafi three years ago. The assault was followed two days later by an attack on the national parliament by militias loyal to Mr Hifter.

The fighting was a dramatic sign of the central government’s inability to assert control over the country, which has broken up into virtual fiefdoms ruled by militias since the ousting of Gaddafi. The stunning offensive of recent days led by Mr Hifter – a former anti-Gaddafi activist who spent years in exile in Virginia – has prompted militias to choose sides, in what could be a prelude to large-scale clashes.

Mr Hifter and his backers have branded their campaign as a war on terrorism, although a complex web of tribal and local interests and shifting allegiances are also coming into play.

He said he did not recognise the authority of the Islamist-led parliament, known as the General National Congress. “The GNC has been rejected by the people, and its legitimacy has ended. The government is ineffective,” he said.

A militiaman guards his camp after clashes in Benghazi last week (Reuters) A militiaman guards his camp after clashes in Benghazi last week (Reuters)
In an apparent effort to defuse the crisis, the country’s High Election Commission set 25 June as the date for new parliamentary elections, the government news agency Lana reported on Tuesday.

The parliament met in secret on Tuesday at the waterfront Radisson, one of a handful of top-level hotels in Tripoli. Only 60 of the 200 legislators attended the session, according to Abdullah al-Gmata, one of the politicians who was at the meeting.

A proposal to postpone a vote on Prime Minister designate Ahmed Matiq’s cabinet by 10 days was considered, but no action was taken.

Mr Hifter said he began planning his offensive about a month ago but that there had been discontent among former military officers for more than a year-and-a-half. “We planned it after we saw people being slaughtered in the streets,” he said, referring to the slayings of police, judges, lawyers and others in Benghazi.

He said that he saw no quick end to the fighting. “Operation Dignity is multiple battles; it’s not just one battle.”

He said that his opponents are in residential areas and therefore he would no longer rely on heavy artillery or air power, as his forces had done in the initial Benghazi assault. “It’s going to take some time,” he said.

Mr Hifter said he has not received any support from abroad and nor was he in contact with the US government. Asked whether he was seeking a role in a future government, he said: “Now the only important thing on our minds is security for all our citizens.” He added that his goal was to establish an effective national army and police force.

Mr Hifter’s self-declared Libyan National Army is backed by many former military officers as well as militias tied to the cities of Benghazi, Tobruk and Ajdabiya in the east and Zintan in the west.

The militiamen are armed with truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers (Getty) The militiamen are armed with truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers (Getty)
He has a long history with the Libyan military; as a young officer, he took part in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. He later fought in Libya’s war against Chad before being taken prisoner and turning against the Libyan leader.

On Tuesday, Mr Hifter continued to pick up allies, including a former senior military officer, Maj-Gen Suleiman Mahmoud, and former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

The Justice and Construction Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned Mr Hifter’s use of force and called for dialogue “to prevent bloodshed”. Powerful militias in Misrata that are aligned with Islamist parties have said they are prepared to go to the capital.

Ansar al-Sharia, one of the most extreme Islamist groups operating in Benghazi, charged in a statement on Monday night that the offensive was “in reality a war on Islam”.

Mr Hifter denied that the fighting could turn into a civil war. “On the contrary, we have the people with us,” he said.

© The Washington Post

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits