June 1, 2020 / 4:12 PM / a month ago

Eastern Libyan forces say they retook town, relieving pressure on stronghold

BENGHAZI, Libya, June 1 (Reuters) - Eastern Libyan forces said on Monday they had taken back the small town of al-Asaba south of Tripoli, relieving pressure on their stronghold at Tarhouna after weeks of territorial losses to forces of the internationally recognised government.

Ahmed Mismari, spokesman for the eastern-based Libyan National Army under Khalifa Haftar, said in a message that the LNA had retaken Asaba, and footage was published online that appeared to show LNA fighters inside the town.

Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture the capital Tripoli, seat of the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), but has lost ground recently.

With Turkish backing, the GNA has retaken a string of towns near the Tunisian border, a strategically important airbase and much of the LNA’s foothold in Tripoli’s southern suburbs.

The GNA took Asaba last month, putting pressure on the LNA’s last major stronghold in northwestern Libya, the town of Tarhouna. There was no immediate comment from the GNA on Monday on whether it had lost Asaba.

Mismari said the LNA had captured Asaba after air strikes there. During LNA losses of ground last month, Turkish drones were crucial to GNA advances and the GNA said they had destroyed several LNA air defence systems.

The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt, has been targeting Tripoli for months with artillery fire and on Sunday shelling killed civilians in an area held by the GNA.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Mark Heinrich

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