Warring Libya rivals sign truce, but tough political talks ahead

Representatives of Libya’s two rival factions shake hands after signing a ‘permanent’ cease-fire agreement following the five-day talks at the UN. (AFP)
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Updated 24 October 2020

Warring Libya rivals sign truce, but tough political talks ahead

  • KSA hopes new era will achieve security, sovereignty and stability for country and its people

JEDDAH: Libya’s warring factions signed a permanent cease-fire agreement on Friday, but any lasting end to years of chaos and bloodshed will require wider agreement among myriad armed groups and the outside powers that support them.

Acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams said the cease-fire would start immediately and all foreign fighters must quit Libya within three months.

As a first commercial passenger flight in more than a year crossed front lines from Tripoli to the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, Williams noted Libya’s “fraught” recent history, one of the numerous broken truces and failed political solutions.

“But we shouldn’t let the cynics win,” she said, hailing both sides for their “courage” in agreeing a cease-fire and saying they deserved international support.

Friday’s agreement was reached after the Government of National Accord (GNA) in June beat back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) from its 14-month assault on the capital.

Since then, frontlines have stabilized near the central coastal city of Sirte and the LNA has ended its eight-month blockade of Libyan oil output, which was strangling state finances on both sides.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • First commercial flight in more than a year crosses frontlines from Tripoli to Benghazi.
  • Libya’s National Oil Corp. lifts force majeure on exports from ports of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf.
  • US terms agreement a major step forward and says all foreign fighters must now leave Libya.
  • Both sides have deployed fighters from Syria, Sudan, Chad and European mercenaries.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the “Kingdom’s aspiration for the agreement to pave the way for the success of the understandings on the political and economic tracks, thus contributing to the beginning of a new era that achieves security, peace, sovereignty and stability for Libya and its brotherly people.”

There was caution inside Libya too. “We all want to end the war and destruction. But personally I don’t trust those in power,” said Kamal Al-Mazoughi, 53, a businessman sitting in a Tripoli cafe. “If there is no force or mechanism to apply this on the ground ... this deal will only be ink on paper,” said Ahmed Ali, 47, in Benghazi.

Key details on implementing the cease-fire, including monitoring the departure of foreign fighters and merging armed groups, have been left to subcommittees in future talks.

Both sides have deployed thousands of foreign fighters, including Syrians, Sudanese, Chadians and European mercenaries brought in by Russia’s Wagner group. 

Meanwhile, political talks scheduled in Tunisia early next month, with a view to holding national elections eventually, will need to reach agreement on historically elusive issues and overcome widespread mistrust. The US said all foreign fighters must now leave. “This agreement is a major step forward toward realizing the shared interests of all Libyans in de-escalation, stability and the departure of foreign fighters,” said a statement issued by the US Embassy in Libya.

“We urge internal and external actors now to support good-faith implementation of the agreement.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this “is a fundamental step toward peace and stability in Libya. “Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women and children have died as a result of the conflict.”

Libya’s National Oil Corp. (NOC) has lifted force majeure on exports from the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, it said, adding that output would reach 800,000 barrels per day within two weeks and 1 million bpd in four weeks.

Al Waha Oil Co, the NOC company that runs Es Sider, said the port would start operating again on Saturday with the first tanker expected within 48 hours.


Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”