Libya’s renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar has left Moscow without signing an agreement that would have formalised a tentative ceasefire in the war-wracked country, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.
After hours of negotiations brokered by Russia and Turkey, Haftar on Monday evening asked until Tuesday morning to look over the agreement already signed by Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
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But Haftar, whose eastern-based forces launched an offensive to seize the GNA’s base of Tripoli in April, left Moscow without signing the deal drafted at the indirect talks, Russia’s foreign ministry was quoted as saying by TASS news agency on Tuesday.
Libyan sources confirmed Haftar’s departure.
“The draft [agreement] ignores many of the Libyan army’s demands,” Haftar was quoted as saying by the Al Arabiya television network.
The talks in the Russian capital were held a day after a fragile ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey came into force in Libya.
The negotiations did not include the warring sides meeting face to face, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday there was “progress” and that Haftar viewed the ceasefire document “positively”.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would teach Haftar “a lesson” if he resumed his offensive on Tripoli.
“We will not hesitate to teach a lesson to the putchist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country’s legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya,” Erdogan said during a meeting of his ruling AK Party.
Erdogan last week announced that Turkey had begun deploying troops to Libya after the Turkish parliament ratified two agreemend signed with GNA head al-Sarraj relating to martime border demarcation and enhanced security cooperation.
It is unclear where the developments in Moscow leave a peace summit scheduled to take place in Germany’s capital, Berlin, on Sunday.
The conference, part of UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame’s efforts to bring an end to the conflict, has been postponed several times due to continued fighting along Tripoli’s southern outskirts.
On Tuesday, the eastern-based forces under Haftar’s command posted on their official Facebook page that they were “ready and determined” to achieve victory in their months-long campaign to seize the capital from the GNA.
“The GNA has documented several violations by Haftar’s forces overnight and one pro-government fighter was killed by a sniper, according to a government spokesperson,” Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said.
“Military sources have stated that they documented deployment, regrouping and repositioning in several axis by Haftar’s forces … building trust between the rival factions is going to be a tough task.”
Tarik Yousef, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, said the Berlin talks now depended on Haftar’s next move.
“The talks are in jeopardy and in fact, the next potential reversal on the ground could be one that sets back Russia and Turkish diplomacy and provide a big opportunity and a test in my view for Turkey’s commitment to defending the government in Tripoli,” Yousef told Al Jazeera.
Yousef said Haftar’s decision to opt out of the ceasefire agreement was puzzling and could be explained in part by the diverging interests of his many backers. Haftar enjoys the backing of several states besides Russia. These include, among others, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“The speculation in Libya and abroad is that given that Haftar is not accountable to anyone in Libya, his external sponsors, other than Russia, have put pressure on him to delay, postpone or try to make gains within the ceasefire agreement.”
The oil-rich country has been marred by instability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
It has since been split between two rival administrations based in the country’s east and west amid a conflict drawing increasing involvement from foreign powers.
According to the latest UN tally, more than 280 civilians and roughly 2,000 fighters have been killed since Haftar launched his offensive in April. An estimated 146,000 Libyans have been displaced.
Efforts to demobilise and reintegrate fighters that helped topple Gaddafi into the formal security apparatus have largely failed.
Libya: Haftar forces announce capture of large parts of Sirte
The forces of Libya’s renegade general Khalifa Haftar said they have entered Sirte, taking control of large parts of the coastal city. Khaled al-Mahjoub, a spokesman of Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), said the fighters captured “all the districts surrounding the city”, including al-Qardabiya airbase, before moving towards the city centre. More: Libyan armed groups…
The forces of Libya’s renegade general Khalifa Haftar said they have entered Sirte, taking control of large parts of the coastal city.
Khaled al-Mahjoub, a spokesman of Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), said the fighters captured “all the districts surrounding the city”, including al-Qardabiya airbase, before moving towards the city centre.
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However, Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) rejected the information in a statement, referring to it as “rumours claiming gains of militias and mercenaries of war criminal Haftar”.
GNA said the government forces repelled LNA’s attack, destroying two armed vehicles near the east of Sirte.
“The situation inside Sirte is completely under control, and the clashes that took place on the eve of this day took place outside the city,” the government said.
Earlier on Monday, LNA sources said the takeover came after forces from the city of Misrata, a key source of military power for GNA, retreated from Sirte.
A resident in Sirte city centre told Reuters News Agency by phone that they can see “convoys of LNA inside Sirte city … they control large parts of the city now. We also hear gunfire”.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from the capital Tripoli, said that, according to the military sources in Sirte, “Haftar’s forces took control of several parts of the city, including the port and the city centre along with the military camps in the south of the city.”
“The city is very strategic because it is very close to the oil fields and oil ports in central Libya and the coast,” he said.
“We are also getting news from the military sources in Misrata that they are sending troops to Sirte to repel the attacks of Haftar’s forces.”
Capturing Sirte would be an important gain for Haftar, who since April has been waging a military offensive on Tripoli which is home to the GNA.
Sirte lies in the centre of Libya’s Mediterranean coast, and has been controlled by GNA-aligned forces since they ejected the ISIL (ISIS) armed group from the city with the help of US air raids in late 2016.
The LNA advance comes as Turkey is deploying military advisors and experts to Libya to help shore up the GNA, part of a trend of rising international involvement in Libya’s conflict.
Haftar’s LNA has received material and military support from countries including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and Egypt, according to UN experts and diplomats.
In recent weeks, there has been an escalation of fighting, shelling and air raids around Tripoli.
On Saturday evening, a military college in the capital was hit, killing at least 30 people, a day after the only functioning airport in Tripoli faced its latest closure due to shelling and rocket fire.
Sirte, the birthplace of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, was taken over by ISIL in early 2015, becoming the group’s most important base outside the Middle East.
The city is just to the west of Libya’s oil crescent, a strip of coastline along which several key oil export terminals are located. Haftar’s forces seized the oil ports in 2016.
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