Turkey-Russia cease-fire negotiations for Libya: Any hope for durability?

Turkey-Russia cease-fire negotiations for Libya: Any hope for durability?
Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet for talks in Moscow, Russia, January 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 July 2020

Turkey-Russia cease-fire negotiations for Libya: Any hope for durability?

Turkey-Russia cease-fire negotiations for Libya: Any hope for durability?
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by Russia and led by eastern Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar, is willing to sign a cease-fire document
  • Saturday’s attack targeting the strategic Al-Watiya air base in Libya damaged Turkish air defense systems where Turkey was reportedly planning to establish a permanent presence

ANKARA: As Kremlin announced the ongoing consultations between Turkey and Russia for an immediate cease-fire deal for the longstanding Libyan conflict, the feasibility of such an agreement is being questioned more and more as the two countries support opposing sides.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by Russia and led by eastern Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar, is willing to sign a cease-fire document. Russia expects Ankara to convince the Government of National Accord (GNA) to proceed in the same way.

The ministerial-level talks have been ongoing for a while, with some postponements last month over the technical disagreements.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, is skeptical about a cease-fire working on the ground.

“The Libyan war is much more complicated than a mere Russia-Turkey proxy war, even though it is often oversimplified to this binary in Western media outlets. The UAE and Egypt will be much more hesitant than Russia about signing a peace deal with Turkey and might not view such as a ceasefire as credible,” he told Arab News.

According to Ramani, Haftar’s military actions in Libya could continue.

“Alternatively, Turkey has powerful interests against a cease-fire at this time and has also escalated tensions with France. Moreover, when Russia says the LNA is on board, there is a question as to whether he means Libyan House of Representatives Chief Aguila Saleh, who might be, or Haftar,” Ramani said.

Experts insist that the spheres of influence in Libya should be clearly outlined to prevent another failed cease-fire.

Regarding the red lines for a cease-fire, Ramani thinks that freezing the conflict areas in and around LNA-held Sirte and Jufra is an immediate priority.

Sirte bears strategic importance as it lies close to key energy export terminals on the Mediterranean shores, while Jufra hosts a strategic military base where Russian aircraft and Wagner mercenaries are reportedly located.

“An escalation from either side in these areas would be a red line. Also, there is a need for assurances from both sides that they won’t restart a broader war if they perceive their rivals as being weak,” Ramani said.

Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, thinks that Russia is concerned about the increasing military support that Turkey gives to the GNA, which further escalates tension in the civil war.

“The only priority right now for Russia is to achieve a lasting peace through a sustainable ceasefire agreement. The same goes for France. Both these countries are also set to bring this issue to the UN Security Council. These latest ceasefire negotiations mean Russia wants to keep the diplomacy doors open for both sides,” he told Arab News.

Saturday’s attack targeting the strategic Al-Watiya air base in Libya damaged Turkish air defense systems where Turkey was reportedly planning to establish a permanent presence. The attack also came a couple of hours after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited Libya.

“After that attack, Ankara felt obligated to be much more cautious regarding the fragile dynamics in Libya. The situation on the ground is complicated and time is not on the Turkish side. Therefore, the cease-fire is necessary for Ankara more than ever,” Sezer said.

For Wolfram Lacher, however, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Russia and Turkey may well try to broker a ceasefire and thereby become the two key players in Libya, but it is doubtful whether such a cease-fire could succeed.

“Haftar has more room to maneuver with regard to Russia than Turkey has with regard to the GNA because he can still rely on Egyptian and UAE support. So, he may reject the terms of a Russian-Turkish ceasefire,” Lacher told Arab News.

According to Lacher, other powers — including the US, France, Egypt and the UAE — want to prevent a Russian-Turkish arrangement in Libya and instead want ceasefire talks to take place under the UN auspices.

“This competition over the forum for ceasefire talks will also make any cease-fire initiative more difficult,” he said.

On the other hand, Bill Park, senior lecturer in the Department of Defense Studies at King’s College London, thinks Moscow is uncomfortable with the implications of Turkey’s escalation in Libya.

“Russia wants to demonstrate that there might be limits to what it will tolerate,” he told Arab News. “At this stage, Ankara should be willing to take risks while Russia should meet the challenges for a negotiated agreement and manage the hostility between France and Turkey.”


Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.


Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
  • Shoukry highlights Cairo’s aspiration for continued cooperation with Libya to promote regional stability

CAIRO: Egypt says it trusts the wisdom and ability of the Tunisian presidency to overcome the current crisis as soon as possible.

It also expressed its full solidarity with the Tunisian people and their legitimate aspirations, according to a spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson stressed the need to avoid escalation and refrain from violence against state institutions, praising the role of the latter in maintaining the security and stability of the country.

“We are following with great interest what is happening in Tunisia and what the authorities are doing there to achieve the security, stability and sovereignty of the country,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

“We fully trust the wisdom of the political leadership in Tunisia and its ability to manage the situation to achieve the aspirations of its people,” he added.

Lamamra, for his part, stressed that “what is happening in Tunisia is an internal matter,” adding that Algeria stood in solidarity with the country.

Shoukry also spoke on the situation in Libya. The Egyptian foreign minister said that the opening of the coastal road in Libya was a good sign of dialogue and reconciliation and would enhance the chances of the elections’ success, putting Libya on the right path to restore its stability, eliminate the terrorist threat and work with neighboring countries Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad.

“We need cooperation between these countries in the region due to the turmoil and challenges it is witnessing,” Shoukry said, adding that every positive step taken would find support and sympathy from Egypt, Algeria and the rest of the neighboring countries.

Shoukry spoke on the importance of restoring stability to Libya for the benefit of both the Libyan people and the other countries in the region.

He also stressed the need for foreign forces to exit Libyan land and for the issue of militias to be dealt with.

The Algerian minister said that the relations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were going through a delicate stage and that it was important to reach an agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Lamamra expressed his hope that Algeria would be part of the solution, stressing that the issue of the GERD was of global importance and ought to receive the attention of the international community.


At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
Updated 02 August 2021

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
  • Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters
  • Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of Houthi fighters in Yemen have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Jouf and Al-Bayda, army officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.
At least 40 Houthis were killed on Saturday and Sunday in Rahabah district, south of Marib city, when government troops pushed back their assault in mountainous areas in the district, Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen Army’s military media, told Arab News.
The Yemeni military official said that the army and allied tribesmen, backed air support from the Arab coalition, mounted a counteroffensive in the district and managed to seize control of a mountain and weapons left behind by Houthi fighters.
Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters and weapons heading to the battlefields.
Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib province.
By expelling the Houthis from Al-Abzakh mountain, loyalists would have control over a large swathe of land south of Marib and would effectively push away the Houthi threat to Marib city from the south.
Despite their losses in the south, the Houthis continued to aggressively attack government forces in areas west of Marib city, local media said.
The Houthis mounted attacks on government forces in the Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara regions, but failed to make any territorial gains.

BACKGROUND

Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

Thousands of people have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a major offensive to control the strategic city of Marib.
Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.
In the neighboring Jouf province, state media quoted Brig. Mohammed Al-Hajji, an army commander, as saying that army troops and tribesmen on Sunday repulsed a Houthi offensive on government-controlled locations in Al-Jadafer, east of Jouf province, and adding that the rebels were forced to retreat after suffering “heavy” losses.
Fighting also occurred in borders between Lahj and Al-Bayda provinces where the Houthis attacked an area controlled by forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council.
Local media said that a government soldier and several Houthis were killed during the failed Houthi attack in the Senah area of Lahj province. Tribesmen on Sunday attacked the Houthi areas in Al-Souma district, west of Al-Bayda province.
Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases continue to fluctuate across government-controlled provinces in Yemen, with the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday recording nine new cases and one death, compared with three new cases and zero deaths on Saturday.
On Friday, the committee announced the recording of 16 new cases and one death.
The total number of confirmed cases in liberated areas is 7,070, including 1,377 deaths and 4,200 recoveries. Local health officials believe that the surging numbers of cases might represent a new wave of the pandemic.
“The epidemiological situation is worrying, as cases have begun to surge,” Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News by telephone.


Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices

CAIRO: The first 10 million doses of Egypt’s coronavirus vaccine Vaccera Sinovac will be distributed in mid-August to more than 500 centers nationwide, the Ministry of Health and Population has announced.

People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices, said Health and Population Minister Hala Zayed.

The certificates are accredited and insured, and carry a unique QR code that will contain the holder’s data, photo and vaccination status, she added.

The ministry is also finalizing an Egyptian Health Passport app to be used in airports.

Zayed stressed the need to continue adhering to the required precautionary and preventative measures, and to stay away from large gatherings.