The forces of Libya's Khalifa Hifter said on Friday that Turkish vessels and interests are "legitimate targets" in its battle to seize the capital of Tripoli, after it accused Turkey of helping rival militias allied with the U.N.-supported government.
The self-styled Libyan National Army, which is led by the commander Hifter, already controls much of the country's east and south.
It launched an offensive against the weak Tripoli-based government in April. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and led to his death.
A spokesman for the LNA, Ahmed al-Mesmari, said the country had "come under illegitimate Turkish aggression" in recent weeks.
"Turkey has become directly involved in the battle (for Tripoli), with its soldiers, planes, sea ships and all the supplies that now reach Misrata, Tripoli and Zuwara directly," al-Mesmari said.
He said Turkey had helped push the LNA out of Gharyan, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Tripoli. The town was a key supply route for Hifter's forces pushing toward the capital.
Turkish forces bombed LNA positions and provided aircover for militias allied with the Tripoli-based government to retake the town, he added.
He said the LNA was now ordered to target any Turkish ships, strategic sites or companies operating in Libya or its territorial waters, and to arrest any Turkish nationals in Libya.
Libyan officials said they had carried out "heavy" airstrikes in retaliation, against the fighters who retook Gharyan. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Last month, a Facebook page linked to the Tripoli government posted photos appearing to show more than a dozen armored vehicles arriving at port, without saying who supplied them. Supporters of the various militias allied with the government said the vehicles, which resemble Turkish-made Kirpi armored carriers, were supplied by Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he was unaware of the LNA's orders. "If Hifter has given such an order, we'll get that evaluated," he said.
He added that Turkey had already taken the "necessary" precautions. "From now on, we would take precautions in a different way as well," he said. Erdogan said in April his government would stand by Tripoli authorities as they repel an offensive launched by Hifter's forces.
Hifter, who in recent years has been battling Islamic extremists and other militias across eastern Libya, says he is determined to restore stability to the North African country. His opponents view him as an aspiring autocrat and fear a return to one-man rule.
He has received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while his rivals receive support from Qatar and Turkey.
The fight for Tripoli has killed at least 739 people, according to the World Health Organization.
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