New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce. (AFP / Mahmud Turkia)
Updated 14 August 2019

New airstrikes pound Tripoli as two-day truce ends

  • Violence in Libya worsens refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, UN says
  • The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since Khalifa Haftar's offensive on Tripoli in April

CAIRO: Airstrikes pounded the outskirts of Tripoli early on Tuesday as fighting resumed after a two-day truce.

The UN-brokered cease-fire was the first since eastern forces of the Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April to capture the city.

The airstrikes focused on the road linking the city center with a shuttered old airport that Haftar’s forces took back in April, and the neighborhoods of Wadi El-Rabie, Khallat El-Fujan and Suq Al-Jumaa.

The militias allied with the regime in Tripoli also shelled Haftar’s forces in the southern and eastern outskirts of the city.

Both sides had accepted the truce before the Eid Al-Adha holiday, though they each later claimed the other had violated the cease-fire.

Authorities at the Mitiga airport, Tripoli’s only functional airport, suspended flights for several hours on Sunday after reporting that a shell had landed a few meters away from the runway. The Tripoli militias blamed Haftar’s forces for the shelling.

No civilian casualties were reported on Tuesday, but fighting since April has killed more than 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and displaced more than 100,000 civilians from their homes.

Many of the displaced have tried to flee to Europe from the Libyan coast, leading to a renewed refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.

The refugees rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which both Italy and Malta have banned from their ports.

It is unclear where they might find a harbor, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest. About 150 of the refugees have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship Open Arms since they were rescued from the Mediterranean two weeks ago.

“This is a race against time,” said UNHCR special envoy Vincent Cochetel. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.”

Migrant numbers had been falling, but nearly 600 have died or gone missing this year in waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

The UNHCR said many of the refugees were “survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships must be allowed to dock immediately and their passengers given humanitarian aid.

“To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” he said.

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”