CAIRO - The United Nations has issued an "urgent appeal" for a two-hour truce in the suburbs of Tripoli to evacuate civilians and those wounded, as forces loyal to military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar continue a push aimed at taking the capital.
Libya's U.N.-backed prime minister, Fayez Sarraj, has called the action by Haftar an attempted coup. Haftar and his forces appear to have gained ground along the outskirts of the capital, but Sarraj said government troops are prepared to confront them.
UNSMIL, the U.N. mission in Libya, has urged all parties in the area to respect a two-hour humanitarian truce.
In anticipation of violence, the United States has pulled a contingent of troops out of Tripoli.
"The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,'' said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command.
The U.S. has maintained a small number of troops in Libya to provide support for diplomatic missions, counterterrorism activities and improving regional security.
Arab media broadcast video of Haftar's forces entering the gates of Tripoli's now-closed international airport, before taking positions outside terminal buildings and along the now-unused runways. There did not appear to be any resistance to the takeover.
Arab media also showed residents of neighborhoods near the capital cheering as Haftar's forces entered. Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV said Haftar's forces had entered the Khalat al-Fargan district of the capital. VOA could not independently confirm the claim.
The tensions in the region have led the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to relocate some of its forces from Libya. But AFRICOM, which provides military support to diplomatic missions and counterterrorism activities in Libya, says it remains committed to a secure and stable state, and will "assess the feasibility for renewed U.S. military presence, as appropriate."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an immediate halt to the advance by Haftar's forces and said all of the parties involved "have a responsibility to urgently de-escalate the situation."
Four towns controlled
Haftar's military spokesman, Col. Ahmad Almismari, told a press conference Saturday afternoon that forces under Haftar's command were gaining ground.
He said Haftar's forces were in control of the towns of Gharyan, Jendouba, Qasr al-Beshir and Suwani. He said 14 soldiers fighting with the Libyan army had been killed in fighting.
The spokesman said air force planes loyal to Haftar had launched at least four raids near the Bab al-Aziziya military compound south of the capital, but that there were no casualties. He said, however, that planes from the nearby town of Misrata, which opposes Haftar, had killed a number of civilians in a raid over the town of Ghariyan, which Haftar now controls.
As the fighting appeared to spread, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted, during a visit to Jordan, that the U.N. "would never give up its support [for] the Libyan people."
U.N. special envoy Ghassan Salame, who is in Libya, said he was monitoring the situation closely.
He said tensions were increasing in a number of places in and around Tripoli and that he was keeping tabs on the situation. He said it was urgent that tension in those areas be ended and that civilians' safety be ensured.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called on the international community to take action to restore stability to the Libyan capital. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri told visiting Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that Libya has been out of control since the revolution that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Shoukri said the situation in Libya has been worrisome over the past few years with respect to the lack of stability and spread of terrorism, increasing the danger to the Libyan people.
Lavrov: Commence talks
Lavrov urged all parties to stop fighting and start negotiating and said the international community must prevent the situation from escalating. He urged Libya's warring parties to cease military operations and sit down at the negotiating table.
U.N. envoy Salame, for his part, insisted that "every effort would be made to hold the upcoming national dialogue conference" in the southern town of Ghadames, "unless the situation on the ground made it impossible to do so."