Libyans voice hope, doubts over cease-fire deal

Fighters loyal to the Tripoli-based government stand atop a tank in the town of Tarhuna, about 65 km southeast of the capital of Libya. (AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Libyans voice hope, doubts over cease-fire deal

  • Both major camps in Libya’s complex war have received extensive backing from foreign powers

TRIPOLI: Libyans have reacted with a mix of hope and skepticism after the signing of a nationwide cease-fire deal intended to pave the way toward a political solution to the country’s grinding conflict.
While observers have welcomed the UN-backed deal, few are under any illusions about the difficulties of turning it into lasting peace on the ground.
“We’ve seen a lot of deals in the past,” said Hassan Mahmud Al-Obeydi, a 40-year-old secondary school teacher from the eastern city of Benghazi.
“What’s important is the implementation.”
Friday’s deal was signed in Geneva by military delegates from the two main warring parties in the North African country, which plunged into violence in 2011 with the NATO-backed revolt that toppled veteran ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
The Tripoli-based unity government and rival forces led by eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar agreed to withdraw from front lines, start demobilizing armed groups and set about integrating them into the state.
Crucially, the deal also calls for the departure of all foreign forces from Libyan soil within three months.
“It’s good that the two sides have been prepared to compromise, but the devil is in the detail,” said Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya.
“There are an awful lot of questions. A key one is: Will countries that have been sponsors of military forces in Libya support this compromise?”
Both major camps in Libya’s complex war have received extensive backing from foreign powers.
Friday’s deal comes four months after Haftar forces gave up their year-long attempt to seize the capital Tripoli, a battle that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands.
In June, Haftar withdrew from western Libya in the face of a blistering counterattack by forces supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) — backed by Turkey.

HIGHLIGHT

While observers have welcomed the UN-backed deal, few are under any illusions about the difficulties of turning it into lasting peace on the ground.

The battle had further deepened the bitter mistrust between the rival political camps and their military allies, as well as ordinary Libyans.
“The war caused terrible social divisions,” said Obeydi. “Work is needed immediately, right now, to rebuild and to heal the deep wounds in Libyan society.”
In the capital Tripoli a 1,000-km drive west, pro-GNA fighter Salim Atouch voiced doubts the cease-fire would hold.
“We have experience with a previous agreement, which was five days before Haftar’s attack on Tripoli, during which he destroyed the capital’s infrastructure and killed many people,” Atouch said.
“I hope this won’t be like previous agreements, meaning we go back to war again. We will abide by it, but we are ready to react at any moment if it’s violated.”
The Geneva talks were the military part of a process led by the UN’s Libya mission UNSMIL.
Separate political talks that start Monday aim to create a new governing body and prepare for elections.
Mohamed Dorda, co-founder and consulting director of geopolitical risk consultancy Libya Desk, said the cease-fire was a positive step that “creates a basis for the political talks.”
But, he warned, “Libya needs a security arrangement to allow a government to be set up. If we don’t deal with the security crisis, we will find ourselves in same situation in a few years.”
That is a complex challenge in a country prey to a patchwork of rival militias as well as foreign mercenaries and rebel groups.
Observers have warned that those negotiating in Geneva do not necessarily control their armed allies on the ground.
Nor are foreign players in Libya likely to easily give up their hard-won influence.
Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, warned that Russia and Turkey would want economic dividends from their military interventions.
“It’s naive to get them to just leave,” he said. “The best case scenario is that they win economic concessions and limit their presence on the ground. The worst is that fighting resumes.”
Yet despite all the obstacles, recent days have seen tangible progress.
This week, the two camps agreed to open domestic transport links and boost Libya’s vital oil output, hard hit by fighting and blockades. Key oil installations have already restarted production after months-long shutdowns.
Massoud Al-Fotmani, a 57-year-old from Benghazi who runs a group of food stores, said he hoped the cease-fire would hold.
“The war has caused a terrible economic downturn,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of money because of the cutting of commercial ties between east and west due to the roads being closed.”
English teacher Mayssoon Khalifa, who works at a private school in Tripoli, echoed his call for a lasting peace.
“Many are hopeful, but not optimistic,” she said. “I sincerely wish that this deal will hold. Libya deserves better.”


Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

Updated 30 November 2020

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran
  • President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”

TEHRAN: Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honored at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear program, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear program, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
On Monday live video from Tehran, shared by national outlet Iran Press, showed uniformed men gathering around images of Fakhrizadeh seemingly ahead of a procession.
His funeral will be held in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defense ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and then reimposed and beefed up punishing sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord, but the nuclear scientist’s assassination has revived opposition to the deal among Iranian conservatives.
The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.”
Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished.
Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf called Sunday for “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.
For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.
“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the deal, it said.
The UAE, which in September normalized ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.
The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region...
“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.
Britain, a party to the nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”
In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.
Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll.”
Iran has responded to the US withdrawal from the 2015 deal by gradually abandoning most of its key nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Rezai called on Iran’s atomic agency to take “minimum measures” such as “stopping the online broadcast of cameras, reducing or suspending inspectors and implementing restrictions in their access” to sites, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s parliament said the “best response” to the assassination would be to “revive Iran’s glorious nuclear industry.”
It called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, said the legislature’s news agency ICANA.
Some MPs had earlier accused inspectors of acting as “spies” potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
But the spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRNA on Saturday that the issue of inspectors’ access “must be decided on at high levels” of the Islamic republic’s leadership.