Militias loyal to Libyan renegade commander Khalifa Haftar captured the country's coastal city of Sirte on Friday, according to the media office of the Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) operation.
Forces of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) were capable of defending the city, but taking into account the safety of its 120,000 inhabitants, they retreated from the region as part of the chain of command, the statement said.
The increased risk of clashes with heavy weapons in the city after an armed group of Madkhali Salafists that was part of GNA forces in Sirte joined Haftar's forces played an important role in the decision to retreat.
Footage on social media from Sirte, the birthplace of Libya's late ruler Muammar Gaddafi, showed former regime supporters celebrating as Haftar’s militias entered the city.
The statement added that the GNA forces are waiting outside the city, which is located 400 kilometers (249 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.
Several posts on social media said Haftar’s militias resorted to pressure, harassment and violence against some of the city’s residents.
Since the ouster of Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the other in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.
Libya’s legitimate government has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since last April, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people.
On Jan. 12, the conflicting parties in Libya announced a ceasefire in response to a joint call by Turkey and Russia’s leaders. But talks for a permanent ceasefire ended without an agreement after Haftar left Moscow on Jan. 14 without signing the deal.
Haftar agreed at the Berlin Conference on Libya on Jan. 19 to designate members to a UN-proposed military commission with five members from each side to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire. The decision was a key result of the conference.