Rebel group the Libyan National Army (LNA) says it bombed a vessel carrying weapons from Turkey in Tripoli’s port, an attack that led the UN-recognised government to call off peace negotiations in Switzerland.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) pulled out of the talks after a barrage of rocket fire on Tuesday hit the key port in Libya’s capital, the takeover of which has been the goal of a months-long operation by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his LNA.
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Turkish security officials told Al Jazeera on Wednesday there were no Turkish cargo ships in the port at the time of the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said Libyans in the capital were expressing “panic, fear, and frustration” as the situation deteriorates.
“People are worried that heavy fighting might renew at any time. People in densely populated areas, they are worried that the attack on the port could be the beginning of other attacks in residential areas,” he said.
Oil-rich Libya has been splintered between competing factions and militias since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed during a NATO-supported uprising in 2011.
It is currently split between two rival administrations – the Tripoli-based GNA and another allied with Haftar in the eastern city of Tobruk that controls key oil fields and export terminals. Each administration is backed by an array of foreign countries.
‘No peace under bombing’
Libya’s unity government announced late on Tuesday it would halt its participation in UN talks aimed at brokering a lasting ceasefire in the war-torn country where a fragile truce has been repeatedly violated.
“We are announcing the suspension of our participation in the military talks taking place in Geneva until firm positions are adopted against the aggressor [Haftar] and his violations” of the truce, the GNA said in a press release.
“Without a lasting ceasefire … negotiations make no sense. There can be no peace under the bombing.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the Tripoli government’s withdrawal from the military committee talks in Geneva following the attack, and said his military would support the GNA in seizing all of Libyan territory.
“If a fair agreement did not come out of the meetings in which the international community is also involved … we will support the legitimate government in Tripoli having control over the entire country,” he said.
Diplomats involved in the peace talks reacted with dismay to the attack by Haftar’s forces.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia called the rocket barrage and GNA talks withdrawal “sad”.
“They were just starting to engage, particularly the military committees, which is key for the ceasefire,” he said.
Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said he hoped the negotiations would resume “as quickly as possible”.
The port attacks were the latest violation of a tenuous truce that came into effect in January.
Turkey recently sent soldiers and military equipment to Libya. To a lesser degree, the Tripoli government is also backed by Qatar and Italy, as well as local militias.
Haftar’s army is supported by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.
“It is clear the objective of the systematic bombardments of the residential areas, the airport and the port, in addition to the total blockage of the oil installations, is to provoke crises for the citizens in all the aspects of their life”, the GNA said.
It added Haftar’s forces were “trying in vain” to destabilise the state, having failed to seize power.
Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Haftar met and agreed a political settlement is the only option for the North African country, RIA news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a statement from the Russian military.
They agreed there was no alternative way to resolve Libya’s crisis, according to RIA.
‘Trying to fix this’
UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame launched the second round of talks on Tuesday in the latest international effort to end fighting between the warring sides, with five senior officers from the GNA and five appointed by Haftar’s LNA taking part.
A first round of talks ended with no result earlier this month but Salame said there was “more hope” this time, mainly because of the approval of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a “lasting ceasefire”.
Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks, sources said.
“Salame is trying to fix this,” said one speaking on condition of anonymity, adding the government’s reaction was being seen as a “protest” and not necessarily a full withdrawal from talks.
#UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame briefs reporters in #Geneva where proxity talks have resumed #LIBYA @UNSMILibya pic.twitter.com/dV3XS5i0ie
— JAMES BAYS (@baysontheroad) February 18, 2020
Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli last April but after rapid advances, his forces stalled on the edges of the capital. The fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced some 140,000, according to the United Nations.
Further talks on finding a political solution were planned to start in Geneva on February 26.
World leaders had agreed at a Berlin summit last month to end all foreign meddling in the conflict and stop the flow of weapons but little has changed on the ground since then.
EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to launch a naval mission to enforce an arms embargo, which the UN said was being violated by air, land and sea. The naval operation will be authorised to intervene to stop weapons shipments into the North African state.
Erdogan on Wednesday criticised the European Union’s decision to launch the new maritime effort focused on enforcing the UN arms embargo around Libya.
“I want to specifically mention that the EU does not have the right to make any decision concerning Libya,” Turkey’s president said. “The EU is trying to take charge of the situation and interfere. You have no such authority.”
Libya: 2nd day of Misrata protests over corruption, poor services |NationalTribune.com
Misrata, Libya – Dozens of people have rallied in Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, for a second consecutive day to denounce corruption and deteriorating public services. The protest on Monday came a day after hundreds of people took to the streets of Misrata and more than 1,000 gathered in the capital, Tripoli, to voice their anger…
Misrata, Libya – Dozens of people have rallied in Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, for a second consecutive day to denounce corruption and deteriorating public services.
The protest on Monday came a day after hundreds of people took to the streets of Misrata and more than 1,000 gathered in the capital, Tripoli, to voice their anger over similar concerns.
“We’re here to protest against corruption … to fight for our rights and lack of government services,” said 32-year-old Amar Jamil, a demonstrator in Misrata. “We don’t have anything,” the father of two told Al Jazeera.
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of millions were spent by the government but people who are sick don’t have a place to be treated. People are dying because the money was stolen.”
The war-wracked North African country has so far reported more than 11,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 199 related deaths.
A major oil producer, Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The country has since been divided into two rival camps that are based in the country’s east and west – and that in recent years have been vying for power.
Sami Hamdi, editor of the International Interest, said the protests were an example of “an increasingly angry Libyan population” whose frustrations with worsening living conditions transcend the traditional divide of east and west.
“[It is] a dynamic that is outside the control of international powers,” he said.
The conflict escalated in April last year when eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar announced an offensive to wrest control of the capital from the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
Supported by Turkey, the GNA in early June succeeded in repelling Haftar, driving his self-styled Libyan National Army to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte – but not without incurring heavy losses.
On Friday, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj offered a ceasefire and called for the demilitarisation of Sirte, a central city that is located roughly halfway between Tripoli and Haftar’s bastion city of Benghazi and that is known as the gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals.
But protesters in Misrata, a main source of military power for the Tripoli-based GNA, said authorities could not make that call on their behalf.
“We want peace but the only people who should decide a ceasefire are the people on the front lines,” 35-year-old Abdelmemam al-Asheb said on Monday.
“Haftar is a war criminal. He can’t be part of any political solution. He is responsible for the oil closures, the thousands who died in Tripoli and all the people who are now displaced,” continued the father of two.
Abdelmemam al-Asheb, right, said Haftar cannot be part of the solution because he is responsible for the closure of the country’s oil terminals [Malik Traina/Al Jazeera]
‘We don’t trust Saleh’
Despite being on the back foot, Haftar, who is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia and has for months maintained a costly blockade on oil production and exports, turned down al-Sarraj’s ceasefire offer, arguing that the move was a stunt aimed at catching the LNA off-guard.
Analysts, however, say his rejection of the deal – a version of which he had accepted in June under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo – is informed by the dynamics in eastern Libya.
Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Haftar-allied House of Representatives in Tobruk and an influential figure with Libya’s eastern tribes, has seen his profile rise since the GNA’s recent military gains.
He has already expressed support for the ceasefire initiative, and observers say that had Haftar accepted al-Sarraj’s offer, it could be interpreted as following Saleh’s lead.
At the time of the el-Sisi initiative in June, Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the presence of Saleh in Cairo alongside the Egyptian president and Haftar was an indication of the diminishing patience of the renegade commander’s foreign backers.
“There’s no other figure that anyone can engage with in the east besides him [Saleh], so it’s the easiest way of having some form of tribal representatives of the eastern bloc but also a political one,” Badi had told Al Jazeera.
Back in the Misrata protest, however, 30-year-old Marwan Alamin said Saleh cannot be trusted.
“He may be the only one in eastern Libya who can actually come to a political solution but we don’t trust him,” said Alamin. “He supported Haftar’s war on Tripoli.”
Also on Monday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for “an immediate and thorough investigation into the excessive use of force” by pro-GNA security personnel in Tripoli during Sunday’s protest.
UNSMIL said in a statement that the security response “resulted in the injury of a number of protesters”, without specifying the number of people who were wounded.
Will Libya’s latest ceasefire bring peace? | Inside Story (25:00)
Libya: GNA fighters head for front as battle for Sirte looms |NationalTribune.com
Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the…
Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte.
The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital, Tripoli, before the new front line solidified between Misrata and Sirte.
Backed by Turkey, the GNA has said it will recapture Sirte and an LNA airbase at Jufra.
But Egypt, which backs the LNA alongside the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, has threatened to send troops into Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte.
The United States has said Moscow has sent warplanes to Jufra via Syria to act in support of Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA. Moscow and the LNA both deny this.
The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising which led to the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
EU countries threaten sanctions
Meanwhile, leaders of France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday they were “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating an arms embargo in Libya.
The statement did not directly name any foreign actors funnelling arms to Libya but multiple powers have been sending fighters and weapons, fuelling a bloody proxy war that reflects wider geopolitical rifts and divisions in the Middle East and within NATO.
“We … urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council,” the statement said.
“We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said they, therefore, “look forward to the proposals the EU High Representative/Vice President will make to this end.”
Voicing “grave concerns” over the escalating military tensions in Libya, they urged “all Libyan parties and their foreign supporters for an immediate cessation of fighting and for a stop of the ongoing military build-up throughout the country”.
NOC urges foreign mercenaries to leave
Also on Saturday, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from oil facilities in the country.
In a statement, the NOC condemned the deployment of Russia’s Wagner Group and Syrian and Janjaweed mercenaries in Libyan oil installations, most recently at Es Sidra port.
The NOC demands their immediate withdrawal from all facilities, it said, calling the UN to send observers to supervise the demilitarisation in the areas of NOC operations across the country.
There are currently large numbers of foreign mercenaries in NOC facilities who do not share this wish, the statement said.
On Sunday, the NOC accused the UAE of instructing forces loyal to Haftar of disrupting the country’s oil output and exports.
Libya, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, can produce 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day. However, production has fallen below 100,000 barrels a day due to interruptions by pro-Haftar fighters over the past six months.
Libya denounces Egypt’s ‘will not stand idle’ threats |NationalTribune.com
Libya has condemned the Egyptian president for recent comments suggesting Cairo “will not stand idle” against threats to national security and could arm Libyan tribes against the internationally recognised government. During a meeting in Cairo with tribal leaders from the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt “will not stand idle in…
Libya has condemned the Egyptian president for recent comments suggesting Cairo “will not stand idle” against threats to national security and could arm Libyan tribes against the internationally recognised government.
During a meeting in Cairo with tribal leaders from the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt “will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to the national security not only of Egypt but also that of Libya” and the region, according to a presidency statement.
In response, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticised the statement as “blatant interference in Libyan internal affairs”.
“El-Sisi’s talk is a repeat of his previous statements, which is a blatant interference in Libyan affairs,” Mohammed Al-Qablawi told Al Jazeera, adding that el-Sisi’s speech was “not aimed at peace as he said, but it is he who is fueling the [Libyan] conflict.”
The Egyptian president’s comments came days after the eastern-based Libyan parliament, aligned with renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, gave in-principle support to a threatened Egyptian military intervention in the country.
In June, el-Sisi suggested that Cairo could launch “external military missions” into Libya, saying “any direct intervention in Libya has already become legitimate internationally”.
He threatened to send in his army if GNA forces captured Sirte, located more than 800km (500 miles) from the Egyptian border.
The GNA, which has been pushing to take the strategic city from Haftar, denounced Sisi’s statements as a “declaration of war”.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, it has been split between rival factions based in Tripoli and in the east, in a sometimes-chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.
Haftar’s eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army has been on the back foot after Turkish support helped the GNA turn back his 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli.
In June, Cairo proposed a peace initiative calling for a ceasefire, withdrawal of mercenaries and disbanding militias in the neighbouring country.
The GNA and Ankara dismissed the plan, which el-Sisi unveiled with Haftar at his side.
Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the United Nations Security Council that the conflict in Libya has entered a new phase “with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels”.
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