Libya's U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) announced on Sunday that it had downed a United Arab Emirates unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the north of the country.
"Our forces have successfully shot down an Emirati drone south of Misrata city," said Mohammed Kanunu, the spokesman for the GNA-led Burkan Al-Ghadab Operation (Volcano of Rage).
"It was a Chinese-made drone equipped with guided missiles," Kanunu added.
Abu Dhabi, which is one of the main backers of putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, has yet to comment on the incident.
The United Arab Emirates previously violated the U.N. arms embargo against forces loyal to Haftar, as revealed in a U.N. report dating from 2017, which stated that the country had long been providing Haftar with all kinds of military support, fueling the ongoing conflict. The report said that among the aid provided by the UAE was an MI-24P attack helicopter in April 2015. Investigators had confirmed that one MI-24P helicopter was traced back to Belarus, which confirmed it had delivered four of the aircraft to the UAE in 2014.
This comes a day after the GNA's forces launched a military operation to recapture Tarhuna, a town of strategic value for Haftar and his last major stronghold in the area surrounding Tripoli.
On Sunday, the GNA announced that it launched 17 airstrikes to recapture Tarhuna, aiming at Haftar forces and their military vehicles.
Tarhuna comes to the forefront as one of the gatherings and a supply point for the Haftar forces. The province consists of 65 big families that have major influence over the country. One of these major families is the Tarhuna family, sharing the same name with the province itself, which works with the Haftar forces. The family took the Tripoli International Airport under control back in 2017 and enabled Haftar forces to be deployed.
The attacks in the province have escalated further since January 2020 and have cost the lives of hundreds of civilians.
The GNA has been preventing Haftar forces from providing further supplies to Tarhuna over the last three weeks. According to many pundits, the Tarhuna family poses the "biggest danger" to the GNA since the forces loyal to the family do not hesitate to launch missile attacks whenever the U.N.-recognized government takes a strategic military step for the sake of the country.
The GNA signaled the operation 10 days ago when the electricity and communication channels to the province were cut. On Saturday, the operation launched officially with a plan to encircle Tarhuna from seven points in the province's north, east, west and southwest, forming a crescent shape. Southern Tarhuna is expected to be left open as a route for Haftar forces to escape to the town of Beni Waled.
The seven fronts being used for the GNA to conduct its operation are named Zatarna, Karabolli, Mesellate, Giryan, Tuveyşa, Meşru and Selahaddin.
The GNA has already advanced in the Karabolli, Giryan and Tuveyşa fronts.
Tuesday marked a huge success for the GNA as it cleared 3,000 square kilometers of land occupied by Haftar's militants following operations in western Libya.
The GNA has retaken seven towns and two cities from Haftar's forces, including Sabratha and Sorman, and controls the area along the country's western coastline.
On Wednesday, the GNA reported that its forces conducted airstrikes on militants loyal to Haftar.
GNA military spokesman Mohammed Qanunu issued a brief statement on the developments at al-Watiya air base in western Libya.
Qanunu said the airstrikes targeted pro-Haftar soldiers who had fled to the air base.
Al-Watiya is regarded as one of the most important air bases in the country and is second only to Mitiga International Airport near Tripoli. Haftar forces captured the air base in August 2014. He and his illegally armed forces in eastern Libya used it as their headquarters for western operations.
As part of measures against the coronavirus, a cease-fire came into effect on March 21. Despite this, Haftar's militias have continued their attacks on the capital.
Libya has reported one death from the virus, 35 cases and nine recoveries. It recorded its first case of the coronavirus on March 24.
The GNA declared a 10-day curfew starting Friday at a news conference in the capital Tripoli on Wednesday to fight the spread of the coronavirus. During the conference, the Supreme Committee for Combating COVID-19 said all vegetable and meat markets will be closed, but bakeries and some shops will remain open to meet people's needs.
Since the ousting of late dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya, supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the GNA in Tripoli, which enjoys U.N. and international recognition.
The GNA has been under attack by Haftar's forces since last April, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.
The U.N. says hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced in the year since Haftar launched his battle for Tripoli, which quickly ground to a bloody stalemate.
The U.N. has warned that health services in the country are already fragile and that many hospitals near fighting zones south of Tripoli have been damaged or closed.
Adding to the misery, more than 2 million residents of areas in and around Tripoli have for the past week been hit by water and power cuts, with the U.N. accusing "armed groups" of cutting off supplies.
Several U.N.-backed attempts to reach a cease-fire between Libya's two rival forces have failed, and the world body has slammed repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo. Last month, the U.N.'s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame quit his post, citing health reasons.
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