CAIRO, EGYPT - Eastern Libyan forces have reportedly taken control of the town of Gharyan, less than 100 kilometers from the capital, Tripoli, in the western part of the country. As General Khalifa Haftar's western forces advance, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his special envoy, Ghassan Salameh, met in Tripoli with the internationally-recognized government's head, Fayez al-Sarraj.
Arab media showed pictures of forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar stationed outside government buildings in the western mountain town of Gharyan, approximately 70 kilometers from the capital, Tripoli. VOA could not independently confirm the exact position of Haftar's forces but Libyan military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Almismari claims that units loyal to General Haftar seized Gharyan without a fight.
He says that (Haftar's Libyan National Army forces) have units loyal to it in western parts of the country and that one of those units moved in on forces loyal to internationally-recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in nearby mountains to capture Gharyan.
The French news agency quoted the head of military operations for General Haftar's forces in western Libya, General Abdessalam al-Hassi, as confirming that his forces now control the town. AFP, however, indicated that other sources in the region are denying the claim and that Haftar's forces were instead in the town of Jendouba, outside of Gharyan.
Arab news channels broadcast video Wednesday of convoys of military vehicles they reported were now stationed in the west of the country, not far from Tripoli. Haftar's office indicated that his forces were "preparing an offensive to cleanse the west of the country of terrorists and mercenaries."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who met with Prime Minister Sarraj in Tripoli Thursday, insisted that "there is no military solution to the conflict in Libya," and called for "calm" as he prepared to meet various Libyan leaders.
Libyan analyst Abdel Sitar Sita told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV — which supports Haftar — that "other forces in the west of the country, including Tarhouna, were joining Haftar, but that the eastern, western and southern military fronts are largely separate and don't coordinate their operations."
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that regardless of the current military situation on the ground, it is becoming a foregone conclusion that General Haftar will eventually gain control of Libya.
"I would assume that the trend will continue in Libya towards the defeat of the Islamic-oriented government in Tripoli," he said. "It is only a question of time. Political Islam is being routed throughout the region, and Libya does not present itself as an exception."
Khashan noted that U.N. envoy Ghassan Salameh and Secretary-General Guterres are trying to negotiate a solution to the Libyan conflict, but he insisted that "no matter what agreement is reached for Tripoli, it will have to reflect the existing balance of power and I think the balance of power is tilting in favor of (Gen.) Hafter."
The U.N. was planning to hold a Libyan national dialogue conference later this month in the southern oasis town of Ghadames. The fate of that conference remains unclear.