Battle looms for key Libyan city Sirte

A military buildup around the Libyan city of Sirte has raised fears of a major battle for control of the area’s strategic oil reserves. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

Battle looms for key Libyan city Sirte

  • LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari said that western Libya is under total Turkish control
  • “We expect an attack on Sirte by Turkey and the militias at any time,” he said

CAIRO: A military buildup around the Libyan city of Sirte has raised fears of a major battle for control of the area’s strategic oil reserves.
The Libyan National Army (LNA), which has occupied Sirte since May, accused Turkey of targeting the oil-rich city and supplying militias in the area with weapons.
LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari said that western Libya is under total Turkish control.
He said that Turkey aims to reach Libya’s “oil crescent,” a coastal region home to most of its oil export terminals.
The LNA is closely monitoring Turkey’s moves in Sirte and Al-Jufra, he added.
“We expect an attack on Sirte by Turkey and the militias at any time,” Al-Mesmari said.
His statement was confirmed a few days ago on a social media account affiliated with Turkey, which posted a map of areas under its control as well as the latest developments in Libya. The map showed areas under the control of Khalifa Haftar, LNA commander, and the Government of National Accord (GNA). It also featured arrows illustrating that Sirte and Al-Jufra are the next targets of the GNA, despite a no-fly zone on the area imposed by the LNA.
The developments led UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to warn on Wednesday against a military buildup near Sirte, which is located between the capital Tripoli and Benghazi.
The warning came after LNA troops led by Haftar retreated and GNA troops led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, prime minister of the GNA of Libya, advanced.
In a UN Security Council meeting chaired by Germany via video conference, Guterres said foreign interference in Libya had reached “unprecedented levels.”
He condemned the violation of a cease-fire in place since 2011, which also called for the handing over of advanced military equipment and a declaration of the number of mercenaries involved in the conflict. However, Guterres did not name the parties who violated the cease-fire.
Guterres called on Al-Sarraj and Haftar to engage in political negotiations and agree to a cease-fire.
During the conference, the representatives of Germany, the US and France warned Turkey about its involvement in Sirte.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry indirectly criticized Turkey for sending Syrian militants to Libya.
“The transfer of Syrian extremist militants to Libyan territories by one of the regional parties aggravates the situation in Libya. This issue is a serious threat to the security of the Libyans as well as neighboring Mediterranean countries,” he said.
Shoukry added: “These threats clearly and currently endanger Egypt, and we will not tolerate this type of threats which are close to our borders, at a time when foreign interferences provide those militants with support.”
He said: “Supporting extremism must stop. We have to put an end to the sources of support by regional players who are confirmed to care less about the stability of the Mediterranean region. Solving this problem and resisting such policies is a prerequisite for the success of our efforts to protect the future of our peoples and that of the Libyan people.”
Shoukry expressed Egypt’s concern regarding the deployment of what he labeled “terrorist groups” west of Libya, with Daesh presenting the greatest potential threat. He said he considered such a deployment a threat to the security and stability of Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi suggested that any violation of Sirte and Al-Jufra will push Egypt to intervene in accordance with international norms and conventions.
Egyptian military expert Samir Farag said that oil is the main reason behind Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s interference in Libya. Farag said that Sirte and Al-Jufra are Erdogan’s two main goals in controlling Libya’s “oil crescent.”
Farag said: “Erdogan knows very well the competence of the Egyptian forces and is afraid of facing them. President El-Sisi said that Sirte and Al-Jufra are red lines.”
He added that if Turkey interferes in those areas, “there will be a strong reply.” He said the Egyptian Air Force is ready and capable of reaching any place which poses a threat to Egyptian national security.
Farag hailed the French role in the Libyan crisis. He said a speech by the French representative during the Security Council meeting on Libya was clear and strong.
“Erdogan faces a difficult situation internally and externally,” Farag said, adding: “Perhaps NATO would adopt resolutions on preventing Turkey from using military coordinates.”
Mohamed El-Ghobary, former director of the Egyptian National Defense College, said Libya has become “an international venue for conflict that is not only regional.”
“The whole world agreed that Sirte is a red line and that whoever crosses that line is an aggressor,” he said.
El-Ghobary added that Sirte is in the middle of Libya and controls the transfer of oil from south to north, and that Turkey aims to deploy there because of this. But Egypt would not allow this, he said.
“Egypt has a development plan that requires it not to slip into any potential losses,” he said.
The Egyptian leadership has a military strategy and political ideology. Any intervention will be “accurately calculated,” El-Ghobary said.


Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

Updated 11 min 36 sec ago

Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

  • The vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit through Beirut port
  • Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs

TRIPOLI: Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli is readying its harbor to temporarily replace that of Beirut, which was levelled in last week’s massive explosion, officials said Thursday.
Tripoli port’s capacity is smaller than the capital’s, through which the vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit.
A fire at Beirut port on August 4 caught a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, causing an explosion that devastated swathes of the city and killed at least 171 people.
Immediately after the disaster, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council ordered that the port of Tripoli be prepped for “import and export operations.”
“The port of Tripoli can stand in for Beirut on a temporary basis, for the time it will take it to be operational again,” Tripoli port director Ahmad Tamer told AFP.
The smaller ports of Saida and Tyre can also contribute to the effort but their capacity is limited and does not allow for bigger vessels to dock.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the UN’s World Food Programme has warned that the destruction of the main port could worsen an already alarming situation.
Lebanon’s economic collapse in recent months has seen it default on its debt, sent the local currency into free-fall and poverty rates soaring to near third world levels, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tamer said seven ships that were on their way to Beirut on the day of the gigantic explosion immediately rerouted to Tripoli, where they unloaded their cargo.
Tripoli had already undergone major upgrade works in order to accomodate increased traffic expected in connection with the reconstruction effort needed in neighboring, war-ravaged Syria.
Tamer said that before the explosion Tripoli port was only functioning at 40 percent capacity, processing two million tons of imports per year, with a capacity to absorb a maximum of five million tons.
The port director said that he wanted to launch a plan to increase work at the port and hire more employees in order to process more than its current rate of 80,000 containers a year.