Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-recognised government said they launched an offensive on Saturday to seize the strategic city of Sirte, as renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his Egyptian allies proposed a ceasefire following a string of military setbacks.
“The air force has carried out five strikes in the outskirts of Sirte,” Government of National Accord (GNA) spokesman Mohamad Gnounou said. “Orders have been given to our forces to begin their advance and to systematically attack all rebel positions.”
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GNA forces have repulsed Haftar’s 14-month offensive against the capital, Tripoli, and are now poised to drive on eastwards, taking advantage of stepped-up military support from Turkey.
Sirte is the hometown of former longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi and the last major settlement before the traditional boundary between Libya’s west and east.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces virtually captured the Mediterranean city of Sirte without a fight in January after one of Libya’s myriad local militias switched sides.
Beyond Sirte lies the prize of Libya’s main oil export ports, Haftar’s most important strategic asset.
Sirte is some 450km (280 miles) east of Tripoli, the town where Gaddafi put up his last stand against NATO-backed rebel forces in 2011.
On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in Cairo that Haftar and other eastern leaders – including eastern parliament speaker Aguila Saleh – had signed up to a declaration calling for a ceasefire from 6am (04:00 GMT) on Monday.
“Heeding appeals from the major powers and the United Nations for a ceasefire… we pulled back 60km (40 miles) from the Greater Tripoli city limits,” Haftar’s spokesman, Ahmad al-Mesmari, said.
The initiative, called the “Cairo Declaration”, urged the withdrawal of “foreign mercenaries from all Libyan territory”, he said.
Sisi added that the declaration also called for “dismantling militias and handing over their weaponry so that the Libyan National Army [led by Haftar] would be able to carry out its military and security responsibilities and duties”.
But the GNA forces’ spokesman appeared to pour cold water on the Egyptian proposals.
“We didn’t start this war, but we will choose the time and place when it ends,” Gnounou said.
He issued a “final call” for Sirte’s local leaders to abandon Haftar and spare the Mediterranean coastal city “the horrors of war”.
“Our forces continue to advance with force and resolve, chasing the fleeing (Haftar) militias,” he said.
Several countries have expressed support for the Cairo initiative.
In a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian,”hailed the efforts led by Egypt … and today’s result aimed at an immediate halt to hostilities”, his ministry said.
“Priority must go to the immediate halt … and rapid conclusion of a ceasefire,” the minister stressed.
The United States said it is “watching with interest” the political voices in eastern Libya where Haftar is based.
“We look forward to seeing these voices incorporated into a genuine nationwide political dialogue immediately following the resumption of the UNSMIL-hosted 5+5 talks on the modalities of a cease-fire,” the US embassy to Libya said in a statement on Saturday.
“We welcome efforts by Egypt and others to support a return to the UN-led political negotiations and the declaration of a ceasefire,” the statement said.
Russia, which, according to UN experts, has employed hundreds of mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group to fight alongside Haftar, also agreed.
“We read the content of the Egyptian president’s offer, of course, we support all kinds of offers to stop the conflicts in Libya as soon as possible,” said Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s special representative to the Middle East and African countries, according to the Ria News Agency.
But according to Tarik Yousef, director of Brookings Doha Center, the ceasefire aims to protect Haftar from further military losses.
“In the context of what has just been reported about military advancements in the last week, the series of defeats Haftar has suffered suggest the Cairo initiative is more about trying to salvage what remains of Haftar’s project and trying to protect what remains of his military forces in the east,” Yousef told Al Jazeera.
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-recognised government in the strategic Bani Walid city [Anadolu]
Libya plunged into chaos after Gaddafi’s killing during the 2011 uprising.
The oil-rich north African country is split between two rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by opposing fighters struggling for power in the wake of Gaddafi’s downfall.
Haftar has since last year sought to gain control over the west, fighting the GNA in an abortive attempt to seize Tripoli.
LNA forces have in recent weeks lost crucial ground to GNA forces, which are backed by Turkey.
The GNA recaptured the strategic town of Bani Walid in the country’s northwest from the LNA earlier on Saturday.
The latest development comes a day after the GNA seized the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in northwestern Libya, which was used as the main launchpad against Tripoli.
Friday’s defeat inflicts serious blows to Haftar’s 14-month offensive to capture Tripoli.
Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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