(Adds Libya air strikes, details)
ANKARA/BENGHAZI, Libya, July 1 (Reuters) - Six Turks detained in Libya by forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar have been released, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Monday, a day after it warned the militia would become a “legitimate target” unless they were released immediately.
Turkey supports the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. Haftar’s Libyan National Force (LNA) launched a campaign on April 4 to try and seize the Libyan capital, but has been pushed back by the Tripoli government’s forces.
The foreign ministry spokesman said those released wanted to keep working rather than return to Turkey. State-owned Anadolu agency said they were sailors after Turkey’s defence ministry denied reports that the detainees included military personnel.
The forces loyal to Haftar said they destroyed a Turkish drone parked at Tripoli’s only working airport on Sunday and declared a “general mobilisation” as tensions between Ankara and the eastern administration mounted.
Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free Tripoli from militias that they accuse of destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. His administration cut all ties with Turkey on Friday, banning its flights and ships from eastern Libya.
Haftar’s critics, including Turkey, accuse him of trying to seize power from the legitimate government through force and deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.
The LNA said on Monday it will start heavy air strikes on targets Tripoli after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted to “liberate” Tripoli, said Commander Mohammed Manfour.
The LNA has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting and last week lost its main forward base in Gharyan which was taken back by Tripoli forces. (Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ayman al-Warfalli, Writing by Daren Butler and Ulf Laessing, Editing by William Maclean)