By Walid Abdullah
TRIPOLI, Libya (AA) – A multi-national force has attacked Libya's coastal city of Sirte, the UN-recognized government said on Tuesday.
In a statement, Taha Hadid, a spokesman for Sirte protection force of the Government of National Accord (GNA), described the withdrawal of government forces from the city as "tactical".
"Sleeper cells attacked our forces, which found themselves before the option of turning the situation into warfare inside residential neighborhoods," Hadid said.
"Our operations' room looked into the situation and estimated that this would put 120,000 residents at the risk of death and displacement," he said.
"After studying the situation, we have taken the decision to pull out of the city and wait for orders," the spokesman added.
On Monday, forces aligned with Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya, said they had taken control of Sirte in a rapid advance.
In April, Haftar's forces launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli from the internationally recognized government, but have so far failed to progress beyond the city’s outskirts.
However, on Dec. 12, Haftar announced that he had ordered his militants to launch a “decisive battle” to capture the capital.
According to UN data, more than 1,000 people have been killed since the start of the operation and more than 5,000 injured.
Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar 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 another in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.
* Ahmed Asmar contributed to this report from Ankara