Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) posing with head of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj (L) and Libya Chief of Staff,Khalifa Haftar in Palermo. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
0

Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

  • Premier Giuseppe Conte presided over a handshake between the two Libyan leaders at a conference on the country in Palermo
  • UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan

PALERMO: Italy’s premier on Tuesday hosted a meeting of Libya's rival leaders on the sidelines of a conference aimed at helping its former colony crack down on extremists and human trafficking.

Photos of the encounter showed Premier Giuseppe Conte presiding over a handshake between the Tripoli-based UN-backed prime minister, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and rival Gen. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is based in Libya's east.

Later, UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan and to holding a national conference early next year prior to elections.

“Haftar is committed to the political process,” Salame told reporters at the end of a reconciliation conference in Italy. “His representatives said that.”

The exclusion of Turkey from the mini-summit prompted the Turks to pull out early, adding drama to the two-day conference at a resort on the picturesque Sicilian seaside.

Other leaders attending the Palermo conference, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who backs Haftar, confirmed he joined the “mini-summit” Tuesday with Conte and other leaders.

Italy's populist government organized the two-day conference in hopes of making progress on ending Libya's lawlessness and promoting a UN framework for eventual elections.

But expectations were limited, with Haftar's camp making clear that he wasn't participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Haftar nor El-Sisi posed for the final conference group photo.

And Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay pulled out before it ended, citing his exclusion from the morning mini-summit.

“The informal meeting, held this (morning) with a number of players and having them presented as the prominent protagonists of the Mediterranean, is a very misleading and damaging approach which we vehemently oppose,” he told reporters.

“Turkey is leaving the meeting with deep disappointment,” he said.

An Italian diplomatic official, briefing reporters in Palermo, said the atmosphere of the mini-meeting was cordial and collaborative and that Haftar told Sarraj to stay in charge until the elections.

A statement on social media Tuesday by a spokesman for Haftar's army, Ahmed Al-Mesmari, suggested that Haftar was snubbing the broader conference because he accuses representatives from the Tripoli side of working with militias he considers illegitimate, as well as extremists backed by Qatar.

In an interview provided by his media office, Haftar said he wanted to meet with African leaders in particular to discuss migration.

“We are still at war, and the country needs to secure its borders,” Haftar said.

Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.

It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.

Italy's anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years. 


US weighs complete withdrawal of troops from Syria

Updated 4 min 5 sec ago
0

US weighs complete withdrawal of troops from Syria

WASHINGTON: The United States is considering a total withdrawal of US forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Daesh, US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure Daesh cannot reemerge.
Still, President Donald Trump has previously expressed a strong desire to bring troops home from Syria when possible.
The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and US officials did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced.
The Pentagon and White House declined to comment.
The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has contributed to the defeat of Daesh in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.
The deliberations on US troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, US forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor in the country and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against the SDF.
A complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria would still leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.
Much of the US campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of bases and ships in the Middle East.
Still, Mattis and US State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million.
In April, Mattis said: “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight — and then you win the peace.”
Daesh is also widely expected to revert to guerilla tactics once it no longer holds territory.
A US withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if Daesh reemerged.
Trump has previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of Daesh's’s advance into the country in 2014.