Libyan force slows Tripoli push over concerns for civilians

Updated 22 April 2019
0

Libyan force slows Tripoli push over concerns for civilians

  • The death toll from this month’s fighting climbed to 254
  • The army is today 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Tripoli, says diplomat

TUNIS, Tunisia: A self-styled Libyan army slowed down its push on the country’s capital over concerns for civilians caught up in the violence as the UN refugee agency said Monday that the fighting for Tripoli has displaced more than 32,000 people.
Fighting erupted on April 5, pitting the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by commander Khalifa Haftar and aligned with a rival government in the east, against militias affiliated with Tripoli’s UN-supported government.
The clashes threaten to ignite a new civil war in Libya on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The death toll from this month’s fighting climbed to 254, including combatants and civilians, the World Health Organization said Sunday. At least 34 more people died in the past two days, WHO said; 1,228 were wounded.
Since launching his push, which many see as a power grab for Tripoli, Haftar’s forces have captured the districts of Gharyan and Qasr Bani Ghashi,r along with several smaller towns. They also seized the capital’s shuttered old airport.
Fighting is now underway for control of Ain Zara and Azizyia, two larger towns near Tripoli, and in the Abu Salim district, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Tripoli center.
Abdelhadi Lahouij, the top diplomat for the east-based government, told The Associated Press in Tunis on Sunday that Haftar’s push was slowed down because of concerns for civilians in the greater Tripoli area, estimated to number about 3 million.
If the civilians had not been taken into account, the battle would not have lasted even a week, he said.
“The army is today 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Tripoli. It controls the (old) airport and the bridge that connects the airport to the city center,” Lahouij said.
He also lauded President Donald Trump’s call to Haftar last week expressing US support for the Libyan commander’s perceived stance against terrorism and Haftar’s role in “securing Libya’s oil resources.”
A White House statement on Friday also said “the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”
Trump’s phone call was a step “in the right direction,” Lahouij said.
Since Gahdafi’s ouster, Libya has slid into chaos, governed by rival authorities in the east and in Tripoli, each backed by various militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.
Haftar has vowed to unify the country. He has led previous campaigns against Islamic militants and other rivals in eastern Libya, and has received support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France.


Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

Updated 24 May 2019
0

Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

  • Turkey says buying Russian weapons system is aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs

ANKARA: Turkey has until next month to cancel a multibillion dollar S-400 missile system deal with Russia, or face harsh US penalties, CNBC reported on Tuesday. 

If Ankara does not cancel in favor of buying the US-made Patriot missile defense system instead, it may also be removed from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program, costing thousands of jobs. Turkey is currently producing about 800 parts for the world’s most advanced fighter.

The delivery of 100 F-35s to Ankara may also be halted, and other defense and industrial cooperation projects with the US may be put at risk.   

In his latest visit to Turkey in early May, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said its procurement of the S-400 was a national decision. 

However, the system, which cannot be integrated alongside other NATO systems and carries fears around data collection, has been a major source of disagreement between Ankara and Washington. 

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) used to impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, could be used against Turkey should the deal with Moscow proceed, though it is thought not until Ankara takes physical delivery of the missiles, which is expected to take place in July.

Sanctions could include prohibitions on banking and foreign exchange transactions, and the denial of export licenses. 

Individuals involved may also be subject to visa denials and exclusion from the US, as well as partial freezing or confiscation of assets.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, says CAATSA would hurt Turkish interests, but would also limit US President Donald Trump. 

“He could technically veto (CAATSA), but the language in the legislation is not as straightforward as other waivers included in sanctions legislation. It is not a question of if Turkey will be sanctioned, it is how, and using which of the 12 available sanctions,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey would do itself a lot of favors if it stopped saying this was a done deal and delayed acquisition to allow for more talks. But that is Ankara’s choice to make.” 

Turkish military personnel have already traveled to Russia for training on the S-400 system, but Ankara does not believe the deal will affect its involvement in the F-35 program. 

Turkish officials are also evaluating an offer made by the US in late March to sell them the Patriot system, with a decision expected by early June.

In a statement on Tuesday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the country was meeting its responsibilities under the F-35 project and added that buying the Russian system aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs. 

“Turkey prepares itself for the possible implementation of CAATSA sanctions. In our meetings with the US, we perceive a general rapprochement on issues including the east of the Euphrates, F-35s and Patriots,” he said. 

Besides pushing Turkey away from the Atlantic alliance, the potential CAATSA sanctions would also hit the Turkish economy, which is already in recession, with the Turkish lira losing more than 40 percent of its value over the past two years.

Timothy Ash, a London-based economist, said Ankara would be taking a huge gamble if they thought Trump would block sanctions, telling Arab News it would be “catastrophic for the Turkish economy.”

Trump already doubled US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum last year, over the detention of an American pastor on espionage charges in the country. 

“There will be very real and very negative consequences if Turkey goes through with its plans to buy the Russia system,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

An expected state visit by Trump to Ankara in July has not been officially confirmed.