TRIPOLI, Libya — A renegade general leading a military offensive against Islamists and their allied militias dominating Libya’s political scene Saturday welcomed street rallies in support of his campaign, saying the demonstrations have given him a “mandate” to fight terrorism.
Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s remarks came a day after thousands took to the streets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the restive eastern city of Benghazi and other cities to wave Libyan flags and chant his name.
“People of Libya, you have given your orders. There is no going back on accepting the mandate and facing up to the challenge,” Hifter said in a statement broadcast on Libya’s Al Ahrar TV.
Since launching his campaign eight days ago, Hifter has said he wants to crush Islamist militias backed by Libya’s Islamist-
dominated parliament and impose stability after three years of chaos that ensued with the ouster and death of Moammar Gaddafi in the 2011 civil war.
Hifter has described his offensive as a battle against terrorism.
Since Gaddafi’s slaying, Libya has been plagued by a weak central government, lawlessness and out-of-control militias that have challenged a weak police and army.
Hifter’s spokesman, Mohammed Hegazi, called on troops who have not yet joined the campaign dubbed “Operation Dignity” to do so within 48 hours or “face penalties.” He did not elaborate.
Hifter’s base remains in Benghazi, where he first started his campaign and where militants have attacked and killed government officials, security members and alleged Gaddafi loyalists. The city is now divided between Hifter’s forces and the powerful militias.
Later Saturday, a spokesman for Hifter’s troops, dubbed the National Libyan Army, warned the parliament against trying to convene again, insisting the chamber has been disbanded.
“Any attempt to meet or convene the parliament anywhere will be considered a legitimate target,” said Jamal Habeel, the NLA spokesman.
Last week, fighters allied with Hifter stormed and ransacked the parliament building in Tripoli and declared the ruling body disbanded.
Days later, some Islamist lawmakers met at an alternative location but failed to approve a new government. The assembly was to meet again on Sunday.