EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast

EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast
The EU’s new naval and air mission will operate in the eastern Mediterranean. Above, An Italian warship in Tripoli. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast

EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast
  • Mission will enforce UN arms embargo amid warnings on ‘foreign interference’
  • The mission will avoid migrant trafficking routes to minimize the risk of becoming a ‘pull factor’

ANKARA: Brussels agreed on Monday to launch a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to enforce a UN arms embargo.

EU member countries are expected to prepare a legal text to support the mission in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, the mission will avoid migrant trafficking routes to minimize the risk of becoming a “pull factor,” as mentioned by Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump phoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to caution him against any intervention in Libya that would further undermine the fragile balance in the country, Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, said on Sunday.

“President Trump also reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation,” Deere said.

Ankara is accused of providing weapons and military assistance to Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) by circumventing the international arms embargo.

Some experts think that the decisions should be taken as a challenge to Turkey while getting people like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on board because Austria tried to block EU negotiations on the patrol mission, claiming that people rescued in the Mediterranean should not be taken to Europe.

The EU patrolling decision aims to revive Operation Sophia, which was launched in 2015 to combat people smuggling off the Libyan coast and to monitor a UN arms embargo on the warring parties. The operation was suspended as a naval mission last March after Italy said it would no longer take in migrants rescued at sea, and is now restricted to aerial observation.

Despite Turkish denials, there are also reports that hundreds of militants have been transferred from Syria to Libya in recent months to fight against the Libyan National Army, which controls most of eastern and southern Libya.

Ankara and the GNA signed a memorandum of military cooperation in late November, 2019. The deal was criticized by Turkish opposition parties, who claimed it violates the UN arms embargo to the war-torn country and makes Turkey part of the conflict.

However, Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said that the new EU initiative is unlikely to have a noticeable effect on Libya’s civil war.

“That may explain why Turkey, so far, has not complained about, or condemned, it too vocally,” he told Arab News.

Harchaoui said that Europe, particularly Italy, worries more about the risk of letting in irregular migrants than it does about war ravaging Libya further.

“This means that the new embargo-monitoring operation may be short-lived. A country like Italy can call it off if the mission ends up saving migrants and bringing them into the EU,” he said.

Brussels has long rejected Turkey’s military presence in Libya, although Ankara insists that Turkish troops are there for “coordination.”

On Jan. 7, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, met with French, German, Italian and British foreign ministers.

“It is obvious that this makes a reference to the Turkish decision to intervene in Libya, which is something we reject and increases our worries in Libya,” he said after the meeting.

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout

Updated 23 sec ago

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout

France looks to rally aid for Lebanon, but no bailout
  • The meeting is the second since the disastrous Aug. 4 explosion
  • The explosion came amid an unprecedented financial meltdown

BEIRUT: France is hosting an international video conference on humanitarian aid for Lebanon Wednesday, amid political deadlock in Beirut that has blocked billions of dollars in assistance for the cash-strapped country hit by multiple crises.
The meeting, organized by France and the United Nations, is the second since the disastrous Aug. 4 explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port and wrecked large parts of the capital. The blast, which also killed over 200 people and wounded thousands, was caused by the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates that had been stored unsafely at a port warehouse for years.
The explosion came amid an unprecedented financial meltdown — worsened by coronavirus closures — that has brought soaring inflation, poverty and unemployment.
An official with the French presidency, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the conference, said Wednesday’s meeting would take stock of how urgent aid could best be used going forward, rather than offer up new amounts of cash to a country “known for its dysfunctions, to put it mildly.”
In a dire report published Tuesday, the World Bank said Lebanon’s economy faces an “arduous and prolonged depression,” with real GPD projected to plunge by nearly 20% because its politicians refuse to implement reforms that would speed up the country’s recovery.
President Emmanuel Macron, whose country once governed Lebanon as a protectorate, has vowed to push ahead with aid efforts despite frustration with its ruling class. Lebanon’s leaders continue to resist reforms and have been unable to form a government after the last one resigned in the wake of the explosion.
The French official said representatives from 27 countries would take part, including 12 heads of state, but that local Lebanese aid groups would have a central role as trusted partners.
A new government would be the first step toward implementing a French roadmap for reforms to enable the release of billions of dollars of international aid. Another key international demand is a Central Bank audit. US consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal withdrew last month from a forensic audit it was tasked with, saying it had not received the information required to carry out its work.
The Aug. 4 explosion, widely blamed on the negligence of Lebanese politicians and security agencies, has brought world attention to the corruption that has plagued the country for decades and left it on the brink of bankruptcy with hollowed out institutions.
World leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $300 million in emergency humanitarian aid after the blast but warned that no money for rebuilding the capital will be made available until Lebanese authorities commit themselves to serious political and economic reforms.
The donors pledged the aid will be coordinated by the UN and delivered directly to the Lebanese people, in a clear rebuke of the country’s entrenched and notoriously corrupt leaders.
“We have the same parliament, we have the same political leaders,” the French official said. “Fortunately, we note that civil society has organized, which is taking up position and compensating for the deficiencies of the state and public services.”
The aid money is expected to go directly to NGOs and other organizations to distribute to the public, bypassing the Lebanese government.