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US officials confirm bombing of Libyan sites by UAE planes

TRIPOLI, Libya--Warplanes from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) secretly bombed Islamist militia targets in Libya, apparently catching Washington off guard, as turmoil in the North African country deepened with Islamists naming a rival premier.

American officials confirmed on Monday that the UAE jets launched two attacks in seven days on Islamists in Tripoli using bases in Egypt.

An Emirati official told AFP only that his country had “no reaction” to the report.

The air strikes signaled a step towards direct action by regional Arab states that previously have fought proxy wars in Libya, Syria and Iraq in a struggle for power and influence.

The bombing raids were first reported by The New York Times, and Islamist forces in Libya had also alleged the strikes had taken place.

“The UAE carried out those strikes,” one American official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the account, a senior U.S. official said “the report is accurate.”

The United States did not take part or provide any assistance in the bombing raids, said the two officials, who could not confirm that Egypt and the UAE had left Washington totally in the dark about the attacks.

The first strikes, on Monday last week, focused on militia targets in Tripoli, including a small weapons depot, according to the Times.

A second round south of the city early Saturday targeted rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse, it said.

Those strikes may have been a bid to prevent the capture of the airport, but the Islamist militia forces eventually prevailed anyway.

The UAE — which has spent billions on U.S.-made warplanes and advanced weaponry — provided the military aircraft, refueling planes and crews to bomb Libya, while Cairo offered access to its air bases, the Times said.

Egypt has not publicly acknowledged any role in the air strikes.

Rival Government Formed

News of the raids came after Libya's Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC) on Monday threw down the gauntlet to the interim government by naming a premier-designate to form a rival administration.

The GNC, officially replaced earlier this month by a freshly elected parliament, selected pro-Islamist Omar al-Hassi to form a “salvation government,” a spokesman said.

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