Battle for Libya’s Tripoli gives chance to Daesh

Extremist groups capitalized on Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019
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Battle for Libya’s Tripoli gives chance to Daesh

  • Daesh had its main stronghold in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, east of Tripoli, until it was expelled from the Mediterranean coastal city in December 2016
  • The extremists still pose a threat in oil-rich Libya, where they were blamed for around 20 attacks last year

TRIPOLI: The battle for Tripoli between rival Libyan forces both championing the fight against “terrorism” has created a security vacuum, allowing the Daesh group a chance to re-emerge, analysts warn.
Libya expert Emad Badi says the fighting has given Daesh “the opportunity to reorganize, recruit and strike alliances with other groups (and organize attacks) to show they are still around.”
Extremist groups capitalized on Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi to establish a presence in the North African country.
Daesh had its main stronghold in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, east of Tripoli, until it was expelled from the Mediterranean coastal city in December 2016.
The group’s demise came at the hands of forces loyal to the Tripoli-based internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), especially fighters from the western city of Misrata.
Those fighters are among pro-GNA forces now battling the self-styled Libyan National Army of military strongman Khalifa Haftar who launched an assault on Tripoli on April 4.
Haftar has vowed to “cleanse” Libya of jihadists and presents himself as the country’s savior.
In 2017, he drove hard-line militants out of second city Benghazi after a three-year battle and ousted extremists from Derna, also in the east.
Then in January he launched an operation to “purge the south of terrorist and criminal groups” before setting his sights on Tripoli.
But despite being weakened, the extremists still pose a threat in oil-rich Libya, where they were blamed for around 20 attacks last year.
And over the past week Daesh has carried out two deadly assaults targeting Haftar’s forces — on a training camp in the southern city of Sebha on May 4 that left nine dead and an attack Thursday in Ghodwa, also in the south, that killed two civilians.

Instability has reigned over Libya since the 2011 uprising, with rival political and military forces vying for power and fighting for the country’s oil wealth and cities.
Extremist groups such as Daesh have fed on this chaos to grow, and divisions that persist as reflected by the battle for Tripoli only serve to bolster them, analysts say.
“The divisions give terrorists an unexpected opportunity to mobilize and reorganize,” said Khaled Al-Montasser, a professor of international studies who lectures at Libyan universities.
After losing Sirte and Derna, Daesh was weakened but not totally defeated as its fighters withdrew to the country’s remote and vast desert in the south or infiltrated coastal communities.
The threat militants pose was highlighted in a statement Thursday by the GNA, which also blamed Haftar’s offensive for giving groups like Daesh another chance to regroup.
“GNA forces continue to repel the Haftar militias but their attacks... destabilize our country and allow terrorist groups like IS to re-emerge,” it said.
Karim Bitar, director of research at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, draws a parallel with Syria and Iraq, where Daesh built a “caliphate” after a lightning offensive in 2014.
“In Libya, as in Iraq and Syria before it, IS took advantage of a vacuum... and the collapse of the state’s structures to anchor itself,” he said.
“As long as Libya is divided and as long as the state’s sovereign authority is not re-established across the country, there is a risk that Daesh will be able to regain ground,” he said.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.