Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

Khalifa Haftar and Emmanuel Macron at the Libyan peace talks in Berlin. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

  • World leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo
  • GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet

BERLIN: A peaceful solution to Libya’s protracted conflict remains uncertain despite an international agreement struck in Germany, analysts say, as a fragile cease-fire between warring factions brought only a temporary truce.
On Sunday in Berlin, world leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the country’s conflict.
But overnight Sunday to Monday heavy bombardment again echoed south of Tripoli — the capital of a country that has been in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Since April last year the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli has fought back against an offensive launched by fighters loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet and the conference failed to get the two rivals to commit to a permanent truce.
The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tried hard to get Sarraj and Haftar to engage in a serious dialogue.
But after the hours-long talks, she had to put on a brave face and admit she had no illusions concerning a peaceful outcome in Libya anytime soon.
“Ensuring that a cease-fire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee,” Merkel said.
Echoing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who took part in the talks, she said the Libyan parties had taken “a small step forward.”
Khaled Al-Montassar, a Libyan university professor of international relations, agreed that much still needs to be done.
“Theoretically, the Berlin summit was successful and touched upon all the details and the causes of the Libyan crisis,” he said.
“But the mechanisms of implementing the summit’s conclusions are still not clear.”
The summit was attended by the presidents of Russia, Turkey, France and Egypt, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
The main points they agreed to will be put forward as a UN Security Council resolution.
They include a commitment to end foreign interference in Libya, respect for a UN arms embargo, a permanent cease-fire and steps to dismantle numerous militias and armed groups.
European states must now convince Italy to resume naval operations suspended since March 2019 aimed at enforcing the embargo.
Other points agreed in Berlin were a return to a political process under the auspices of the UN, respect for human rights and guarantees to ensure the security of Libya’s lucrative oil infrastructure.
The United Nations walked away from the summit satisfied at least with one key development.
The summit saw the formation of a military commission comprising five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates who will seek to define ways of consolidating the cease-fire.
The UN mission in Libya had for weeks urged the rival camps to submit names of delegates to such a commission, and its wish was finally answered on Sunday.
The military commission is expected to meet in the coming days, according to the UN, tasked with turning the fragile cease-fire into a permanent truce as requested by the international leaders in Berlin.
The cease-fire was co-sponsored by Russia and Turkey and has broadly held since it went into effect on January 12.
The main goal of the Berlin summit was to end the international divisions concerning Libya.
Although the GNA is recognized by the UN as Libya’s legitimate government, the world body’s member states do not agree when it comes to the oil-rich North African country.
Haftar, who insists his military campaign is aimed at battling Islamists, has the support of several countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, with some providing him with military and logistical backing.
The GNA is backed by Qatar and Turkey, which has recently sent some troops to shore up Sarraj’s embattled government.
Moscow is also suspected of backing Haftar but denies funding Russian mercenaries on the ground.
As a follow-up to the Berlin summit, the two rival administrations must now choose representatives to attend talks in order to revive the moribund political process, UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said.
Algeria, which attended the conference and shares a border with Libya, on Monday offered to hold inter-Libyan talks on its soil. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Algiers on Tuesday, his ministry said Monday, to discuss the situation in Libya, among other topics.
Future Libya talks are certain to face huge challenges, particularly after pro-Haftar forces blocked oil exports from Libya’s main ports last week.
Meanwhile, Libyans on social media remained skeptical, the deep divisions reflected in comments such as “who won, Haftar or Sarraj?“
Tripoli resident Abdul Rahman Milud said a “another summit isn’t necessary.”
Establishing “a consensus among Libyans themselves” is much more important, he told AFP.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”