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

  • 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.


UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

  • The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling
  • The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq

LONDON: Relatives of two Britons killed by a Daesh cell on Wednesday welcomed a breakthrough that advances the US trial of two Londoners accused of their brutal deaths.
The families of Alan Henning and David Haines said a ruling by the London High Court permitting the UK government to share evidence with US authorities about the suspects was a “huge result for us.”
“We have only ever wanted to see these two men being held accountable and brought to justice through a fair trial for their alleged actions,” they said in a statement released by the charity Hostage International.
The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling.
The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell was dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives due to their English accents. They are accused of torturing and killing victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.
A two-year legal impasse concerning the suspects was broken last month when Attorney General Bill Barr said they would be spared execution if convicted after trial in the United States.
The United States wants to try them for the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig, during 2014-2015.
Taxi driver Henning and former aircraft engineer Haines, who had both gone to Syria to do aid work, were beheaded in 2014.
Another of the cell’s alleged victims was British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and remains missing.
Cantlie’s sister Jessica Pocock told of the relatives’ intense frustration at the long legal wait.
“At times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to be able to bring these two to justice — wherever they may be,” she told BBC radio.
“That was always terribly important to us to have a proper, fair trial. The families need nothing less than a fair trial,” she said.
The US Department of Justice welcomed the court ruling and expressed gratitude to Britain for transferring the evidence, although a trial date has yet to be set.