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ISTANBUL -- Turkey's president has met with the head of Libya's U.N.-recognized government, after heightened tensions between Turkey and forces loyal to a rival Libyan authority.

In a statement from his office late Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his support for Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj's "legitimate" government.

Libya is split between two warring governments. Sarraj leads the weakened government based in the capital, Tripoli, in the west, supported by an array of militias.

The self-styled Libyan National Army of Khalifa Hifter rules much of the rest of the country. His ongoing offensive to seize the capital has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the conflict that ousted Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Erdogan called on Hifter's forces to cease their attacks.

The military commander's forces have said that Turkish vessels and interests would be considered targets, after accusing Turkey of helping militias allied with the Tripoli government. Six Turkish citizens were freed last week after Turkey threatened action.

The Libyan National Army also said it deployed more troops to join the Tripoli fighting.

On Friday, its media center posted footage it says shows "military battalions" that would be sent to the front for the first time. The footage showed dozens of armored vehicles moving in the desert under cover of warplanes.

The reinforcements came less than two weeks after Hifter's forces were driven out of the strategic town of Gharyan, in a surprise attack by militiamen aligned with the Tripoli government.

The U.N. health agency said the death toll from the fighting around the capital had reached nearly 1,000, including 53 who were killed in the airstrike on the Tajoura detention center for migrants.

The World Health Organization said the fighting has wounded more than 5,000 others since Hifter opened his offensive on April 4.

Fighters aligned with the government in Tripoli received Turkish-made armored vehicles in May. Hifter's forces said they destroyed Turkish-made drones during the fighting.

Information for this article was contributed by Maggie Michael of The Associated Press.

A Section on 07/07/2019

Print Headline: Turk backs one Libyan rival, urges cease-fire

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