Egypt’s El-Sisi says militias hold Libyan government ‘hostage’

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said Egypt was really affected by what is happening in Libya. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Egypt’s El-Sisi says militias hold Libyan government ‘hostage’

  • El-Sisi says restoring the states in Syria and Libya will solve many crises
  • Egypt's embassy in Libya suspended its work due to security reasons until further notice

CAIRO: Libya’s UN-supported government is held hostage by “armed and terrorist militias” in the capital, Tripoli, Egypt’s leader said Sunday.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in televised comments that the Government of National Accord “is not able to have a free and real will because they have been taken hostage by armed and terrorist militias there.”
The GNA is backed by Egypt’s regional rivals Turkey and Qatar. Egypt’s relations with the two countries have been strained since 2013 when El-Sisi, as defense minister, led the military to overthrow President Muhammad Mursi in 2013, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, amid mass protests against his brief rule.
The Tripoli-based government is supported by a Libyan affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood group, which Cairo designated as a terrorist organization in 2013. The political party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, too.
El-Sisi said his country has been “negatively affected” by the conflict in Libya, which descended into chaos after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Last week, the Egyptian president said a comprehensive political solution would be achieved in the coming months that would put an end to a “terrorist hotbed that pushes militants and weapons to (Libya’s) neighboring countries including Egypt.”
In the chaos that followed Qaddafi’s death, Libya was divided into two parts, a weak UN-supported administration in Tripoli and a rival government in the east aligned with the Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar, who has modelled himself after El-Sisi, has for months been fighting an array of militias allied with the Tripoli authorities to wrest control of the capital. He is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
On Saturday, Egypt’s parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al said Egypt recognizes the Libyan legislature as “the sole legitimate body representing the Libyan people,” according to the MENA news agency. He said the Egyptian parliament backs Haftar’s forces in their “fighting against terrorism.”

Following El-Sisi’s speech, Bahrain renewed its support to Egypt in protecting Arab national security and enhancing stability in the region, according to the Bahrain News Agency
“Bahrain confirmed that the kingdom’s position is consistent and supportive of Arab Egypt, its security, stability and full support for the tireless and continuous efforts undertaken by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to promote development and prosperity of the Egyptian people, protect Arab national security and enhance stability in the region.”
Bahrain stressed its support for Egypt’s endeavors, which seeks to restore security and peace in Libya, guarantee its sovereignty, contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Libyan people in development and progress, and eliminating various forms of violence, extremism and terrorism.
Libya’s parliament is affiliated with the government based in the country’s east and has opposed the UN-supported government in Tripoli.
Abdel-Al did not say whether the government of El-Sisi decided to rescind its recognition of the Tripoli-based government. Multiple calls to the country’s presidency and Foreign Ministry went unanswered.
The Libyan commander Thursday declared a “final” and decisive battle for Tripoli, unleashing heavy clashes on the southern reaches of the city in the past two days against the Tripoli-based militias.
El-Sisi’s comments came amid heightened tensions with Turkey after a controversial maritime border agreement it signed last month with Libya’s UN-based government.
Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically, have denounced the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the issue.
El-Sisi’s comments also come as Libya’s embassy in Egypt was closed indefinitely from Sunday, the mission said on its Facebook page citing security concerns.
“The embassy of Libya in Cairo... suspended its work due to security reasons starting Sunday and until further notice,” a statement said without giving further details.
It however flatly denied in a separate statement reports suggesting that some embassy staff had broken ranks with the weakly UN-supported administration in Tripoli.
The GNA’s foreign ministry confirmed that the embassy had been closed indefinitely, in a statement on Facebook.
It said the work at the mission was suspended in order to protect staff after a series of recent “violations” targeting the embassy, including attempts by some to “blackmail” employees in order to obtain money.
The foreign ministry gave no further details but said “work is underway with the Egyptian authorities to put an end to these violations and secure the embassy as required.”
The embassy would resume its operations when it is secured, it added.
The Libyan embassy in neighboring Egypt has long been at the center of a power struggle between the country’s rival administrations in the east and the west.

(With AFP and AP)

Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

Updated 41 min 33 sec ago

Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

  • US AFRICOM: US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors
  • Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar

JEDDAH: Russia’s deployment of fighter aircraft to Libya to support mercenaries backing eastern strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar on Thursday ratcheted up the threat of a confrontation between Ankara and Moscow, experts warned.

In a statement, the US military’s Africa Command said: “US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors operating on the ground there.”

The warplanes had been painted “to camouflage their Russian origin,” the statement added.

Despite Moscow’s dismissal of claims about its role in the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya, University of Oxford researcher Samuel Ramani said that new revelations about Russia deploying MiG-29 fighter jets to Libya could create tensions with Turkey.

“Russian jets are being deployed in order to stem the tide of Turkey’s military offensive, which has combined the use of ground force proxies and air force personnel in a hybrid warfare-style fashion. There is also the heightened risk of an accidental aerial conflict between Russia and Turkey,” he told Arab News.

The UN said on Wednesday it was following the developments “with great concern” and highlighted the possible “devastating consequences” of any breaches of an arms embargo imposed on Libya.

Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar.

In recent months, there have been steps for rapprochement between Assad and Haftar whose common enemy is still Turkey. Haftar decided to reopen the Libyan Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus which had been closed for eight years, while flights resumed recently between Damascus and the Libyan city of Benghazi under Haftar’s domain.

However, Ramani pointed out that the long-term impact on Russia-Turkey relations was more unclear.

“Russia is reportedly scaling back its Wagner Group mercenary presence in Libya and replacing those forces with fighter jets, and it is unclear whether this will do more than stall Turkey’s advance, while Moscow pushes for a diplomatic settlement,” he said.

He noted the timing of the reports, which had come on the same day of a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Libya’s House of Representatives’ (HOR) head Aguila Saleh.

Ramani added that Turkey was unlikely to change its conduct in Libya much, in response to Russia’s new developments, but would be more vigilant if Russia’s air war expanded, and the Russian S-400 defense system deal would likely remain in place.

“The only way the S-400 deal could collapse is if the US were to intervene in a material fashion that benefits Turkey and hurts Russia, which is a near-impossibility at present, due to (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Turkey was set to activate the S-400 missile defense system in April and risked harsh sanctions from Washington for the move. However, the target date was postponed officially due to the COVID-19 outbreak that changed national priorities.

But Turkish rulers still insist on using the Russian system, although it is unclear how the diverging moves in Libya recently would impact on their resolve.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 on May 25, Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said although Turkey had delayed the activation of the system due to the pandemic, the government was still planning to operate it.

Kalin also hinted that if the US were willing to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, Erdogan would be ready to listen to the offer.

Seth Frantzman, Middle East security analyst and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said the Russian move meant to balance Ankara’s role in Libya and to make up for the losses in the Russian-made Pantsir air defense system and show Russia’s strength.

“It’s a bargaining chip related to Syria. Russia wants to show a strong hand in Libya to drive concessions in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, likely through a new regime offensive to illustrate that Russia is not abandoning its partners in Libya and that it is willing to symbolically commit air force assets very publicly,” he told Arab News.

Frantzman pointed out that while both Turkey and Russia worked together, they were also jockeying for popularity and influence in the region.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “following with great concern” claims that Russia sent jets to Libya.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that, if proven, it would “constitute a flagrant violation of the arms embargo” imposed on Libya in 2011.

Without mentioning Russia, Dujarric said: “Reports of violations have increased significantly in the past few weeks, with reported near-daily transfers by air, land and sea.

“This increase in the violations of the arms embargo will only lead to the intensification of the fighting, which will result in devastating consequences for the Libyan people.”