Libya’s leaders have a duty to ‘close the chapter of division,’ UN special envoy tells Arab News

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Updated 19 September 2023
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Libya’s leaders have a duty to ‘close the chapter of division,’ UN special envoy tells Arab News

 Libya’s leaders have a duty to ‘close the chapter of division,’ UN special envoy tells Arab News
  • Abdoulaye Bathily believes there is pressure from citizens for restoration of stability, unity and dignity
  • Says anarchy and chaos in Libya would not serve interests of regional or international players

NEW YORK CITY: Libya has been mired in conflict, instability and political fragmentation since the eruption of the Arab uprisings in 2011. The latest blow was dealt by a natural disaster, a Mediterranean storm on September 10 night that caused catastrophic flooding in many eastern towns, leaving at least 11,300 people dead and more than 10,000 missing.

Despite the myriad challenges that war-ravaged Libya faces, there still can be found a resilient and hopeful population that yearns for peace, stability and prosperity. This is the view of Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN’s special envoy for Libya.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News during his recent visit to New York City, where he briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country, he said the successful staging of democratic elections offers the only path toward the restoration of political authority, legitimate institutions, and a security apparatus capable of safeguarding citizens and territorial integrity.

Bathily, who lives in Tripoli, described Libyans as a welcoming and peace-loving people. Their main desires are for their country to attain a sense of normalcy and stability, secure its sovereignty, and establish legitimate state institutions, so that it can become a prosperous nation capable of being a regional powerhouse.

“In spite of the crisis, today Libya produces 1.2 million barrels of oil a day, which is immense wealth for a country of 6 million people,” he said. “So, they have everything to be prosperous, everything to be happy.”

However, the reality is starkly different, according to him, as the hopes of the Libyan people continue to be undermined by their country’s precarious political and security situation. There is a gulf between the nation’s political elite and their people, and the responsibility for bridging that divide rests with Libya’s leaders, he said.

“Ordinary Libyans look at the political elite as not at the level of responsibility,” said Bathily, adding that the public demand a leadership that is capable of unifying political and security institutions, repairing the fragmentation of the country, and restoring its dignity.




A Mediterranean storm on September 10 night caused catastrophic flooding in many eastern Libyan towns. (AP)

“(Libyan leaders) have, at this current period of their history, the duty to take the responsibility to overcome the current failures of the institutions, (of) all the political setup.”

The protracted stalemate between Libya’s two rival governments, along with the internal divisions within each authority, is a constant source of political, economic and administrative instability.

In February 2022, following the indefinite postponement of elections scheduled to take place in December 2021 under the leadership of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unit, the rival faction — the House of Representatives (HoR) — elected Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister, as prime minister of a competing authority that became known as the Government of National Stability (GNS).

The GNS is based in Sirte and aligned with the Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

In May this year, the HoR suspended Bashagha and replaced him with the finance minister, Osama Hamad, a move analysts believe was a result of Bashagha’s failed violent attempt to enter Tripoli last year.

Bathily emphasized the need for Libya’s rival political leaders to compromise on contentious issues, reunify the country’s political institutions, and combine their military and security structures. This is the only way forward, he said, and he believes momentum is building in this direction.

“There is a real pressure from below, (from) ordinary citizens,” he said. “When I go to Sirte, to Benghazi, to Misrata, to Zintan, to Zawiya, to Sabha — wherever — people say, ‘We want a change, we want to close the current chapter of division. We want dignity restored to our country.’

“This is the call everywhere. And I think because of this persistent call, the leadership finally would heed it. And, now, a number of signs are there that things are going forward, moving perhaps slowly, but surely.”




Natural disasters, political upheavals, conflicts and economic crises have for decades been the cause of untold human suffering. (AFP)

One such positive sign of this, according to Bathily, is the combination of efforts to establish a new road map for holding the national elections needed to unify the country’s divided government.

In spring this year, a “joint 6+6 committee,” comprised of six representatives of each of the rival authorities, was tasked with drafting electoral laws that would enable elections to take place by the end of this year.

Although the HoR approved the draft legislation in July, it remains controversial. Some political factions have objected to several of its provisions, including those related to the eligibility of dual nationals to run for president, and to the establishment of an interim executive in the run-up to the elections, with the latter proving particularly controversial.

“Those electoral laws are now being considered,” Bathily said. “We, as UNSMIL (the UN Support Mission in Libya), we looked at them and made some remarks on whether they can be implemented. The High Commission for Elections also looked at it.

“A number of observers of the Libyan scene also came to the conclusion that those laws cannot be implemented as they are. They needed to be fine-tuned, amended. And if they are amended on the basis of a political compromise, (we) can consider seriously now that we can have a road map to elections.”

FASTFACTS

• Abdoulaye Bathily held various ministerial positions in Senegalese government and academic posts before moving to the UN.

• He said it is through peace and stability in Libya that the interests of partners can be taken care of.

Several attempts to forge a unity government in the past have collapsed as a result of the infighting and factionalism that is deeply entrenched in Libyan politics. The political class is widely viewed as unresponsive to democratic change and transition.

And there are fears among the Libyan people that if decisions about the country’s future are entrusted to the same ruling elite that has been in place since the fall of former leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, it runs the risk of reinforcing the existing divisions between dueling factions.

These are the same factions that are accused of vying to maintain their own positions of power and influence, while applying a veneer of legitimacy to vested interests, thereby perpetuating the very power structures that are responsible for the current political mess.

Many fear this would drag Libyans down even further. “To prevent this bleak future from becoming reality, we can have only one prospect: elections,” Bathily said. “Elections are not just about the legal basis, elections are about political compromise, political agreement. And this is why, as we see the situation in Libya today, there is a necessity to unify the current political leadership of the country.

“There is a need to have one army to preserve and safeguard the territorial integrity of Libya, to secure the lives of Libyan citizens. And to go to elections, to have a level playing field where all candidates will be on equal footing, be able to campaign throughout the country, to present their programs, their visions for Libya.

“To have a safe debate among all the stakeholders, all the candidates, we need a government to lead the country; not an interim government anymore, but a unified government that cares about the whole country, that will take into account the desires of all the candidates and the desires, of course, of the citizens.”




At least 11,300 people died and more than 10,000 missing after the flood. (AFP)

The fragile security situation resulting from Libya’s political fragmentation was thrown into sharp relief on Aug. 14 when 55 people died during heavy fighting between armed groups in Tripoli. It was the deadliest violence there since the failed assault on the city by the GNS last year.

“It is intolerable to have this kind of casualty in Libya,” said Bathily. “Tens of civilians killed for nothing. For nothing. Because what is involved in those clashes is not the destiny of Libya. Those clashes came out of nowhere and nothing.

“So, it is unacceptable, and this is why we think that we have really to work for the unification of the security apparatus, on the basis of a unified political leadership in the country who will be obeyed by all the security and military institutions.

“I’m very concerned because so long as the institutional and political fragmentation continue, there is the risk of a repeat of this kind of situation.”

Bathily said the clashes were “indeed a wake-up call for all the elite, because if this situation continues, it will jeopardize individual ambition. The state of anarchy which will result from the repetition of this kind of situation will put at risk even the individual lives of all those leaders. So, they have an interest in keeping the peace and stability of the political landscape.”

On the bright side, Bathily highlighted what he called several signs of progress toward a more stable Libya, including ongoing efforts to finalize the electoral laws, the unification of the central bank, and consultations among institutional leaders to oversee state expenditure in a more transparent fashion.

He said the last of those signs was particularly “important because there is a continuous outcry in Libya about the management of national resources, lack of transparency and corruption. And this mechanism hopefully, if consolidated, since it is a result of a consensus among institutional players, will enable more transparency in public expenditure and put, really, the resources of the country at the disposal of the citizens of the country.”

Bathily also said it is important that regional and international actors speak with one voice and act in unison with regards to Libya. He called on them to respond to the calls by the Libyan people for unity, peace and prosperity and said he believes the interests of these external powers can only be served by a stable Libya.

“It is through peace and stability in Libya that the interests of partners, be they regional or international, can be taken care of,” said Bathily.

“But anarchy and chaos in Libya would not serve the interests of regional players or international players.”

He underscored the interconnected nature of regional crises such as those in Libya, the Sahel, Sudan, Chad and Niger, and the fact that recent developments have shown that the ripple effect of instability in one country will inevitably be felt by neighboring nations. A concerted effort is therefore needed to prevent further crises, which requires dialogue, cooperation and international support, according to Bathily.




Bathily, who lives in Tripoli, described Libyans as a welcoming and peace-loving people. (Supplied)

On several occasions, UN human rights experts have expressed serious concerns about reports of human traffickers in Libya detaining and torturing migrants and refugees, holding them for ransom, and subjecting them to human rights violations that might constitute enforced disappearance.

Referring to the migrant crisis, Bathily said that countries of origin, transit and destination share with Libya the responsibility for addressing it. He called for the development of a comprehensive approach to this that takes into consideration the economic, security and political dimensions of the issue.

“The issue of migration is a big subject and responsibilities are shared by all the countries concerned, from all sides, one side in the Mediterranean and the other side in the Sahel,” he said.

“This is why it is important to create the conditions for stability and peace in all these countries, because not only do you have migration; migration and human trafficking go with other scourges as well — that is, drug trafficking and all sorts of criminal activities along the route of migration.

“Therefore, we should shoulder the problem in its entirety instead of just looking at it from one side. It is important for Europe, the African countries concerned, and even beyond, to look at this issue because it is not only an economic issue. It is a security issue and a political issue as well.

“Therefore, it has something to do with the wider problems of our current world, a world of economic crises, a world of political crises, a world of deficit of leadership all along the line.”


Food supplies in southern Gaza at risk, says UN official

Food supplies in southern Gaza at risk, says UN official
Updated 12 sec ago
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Food supplies in southern Gaza at risk, says UN official

Food supplies in southern Gaza at risk, says UN official
  • Israel has killed least 37,266 Palestinians in the territory during more than eight months of war

GAZA: Supplies of food to southern Gaza are at risk after Israel extended its military operations, and those displaced by the offensive there face a public health crisis, a senior UN official said on Friday.
While hunger and the risk of famine have been most acute in northern Gaza in recent months, the situation is now deteriorating in the south, said Carl Skau, deputy director of the UN World Food Programme.
The main pipeline for aid earlier in the eight-month-old war was from Egypt into southern Gaza, but this was largely cut off when Israel expanded its campaign in the city of Rafah, where much of Gaza’s population was sheltering, from early May.
“We had stocked up before the operation in Rafah so that we had put food into the hands of people, but that’s beginning to run out, and we don’t have the same access that we need, that we used to have,” Skau said after a two-day trip to Gaza.
When Israel advanced in Rafah, many of those who had taken refuge there were displaced again northward and toward an evacuation zone in Al-Mawasi, an area on the coast.
“It’s a displacement crisis that brings a protection catastrophe, that a million or so people who have been pushed out of Rafah are now really crammed into a small space along the beach,” said Skau.
“It’s hot. The sanitation situation is just terrible. We were driving through rivers of sewage. And it’s a public health crisis in the making.”
Distribution of aid has been hampered by military operations, delayed Israeli authorizations, and increasing lawlessness within Gaza.
Skau said that although more food was reaching northern Gaza, basic healthcare, water, and sanitation were needed to “turn the curve in the north on famine completely.” Israel needed to let more healthcare goods into Gaza, he said.
Israel says it puts no limit on humanitarian supplies for civilians in Gaza and has blamed the UN for slow or inefficient deliveries. The Health Ministry in Gaza said on Friday that at least 37,266 people had been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war.
The toll includes at least 34 deaths during the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that a total of 85,102 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began on Oct. 7.
Israel’s response has left more than 37,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials, and reduced much of the Hamas-ruled territory to ruins.
Skau said he was taken aback by the level of destruction and said Gazans had been worn down by conflict.
“When I was there in December, they were angry, frustrated. There was tension,” he said.
“Now I more felt that people were tired, they were fed up. They just want this to be over with.”

 


G7 says UNRWA, UN agencies must work unhindered in Gaza

G7 says UNRWA, UN agencies must work unhindered in Gaza
Updated 14 June 2024
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G7 says UNRWA, UN agencies must work unhindered in Gaza

G7 says UNRWA, UN agencies must work unhindered in Gaza
  • UNRWA has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of involvement in the unprecedented October 7 attack
  • Independent review of UNRWA found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its main allegations

BARI, Italy: G7 leaders said Friday the UN Palestinian refugee agency must be allowed to work unhindered in war-torn Gaza, in a statement at the end of their talks in Italy.
“We agree it is critical that UNRWA and other UN organizations and agencies’ distribution networks be fully able to deliver aid to those who need it most, fulfilling their mandate effectively,” the Group of Seven nations said.
They called for all parties to facilitate “rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need” in Gaza, particularly women and children.
“Securing full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access in all its forms — consistent with international humanitarian law, and through all relevant land crossing points, including the Rafah crossing, through maritime delivery routes, including through Ashdod Port — and throughout all of Gaza remains an absolute priority,” they said.
UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of involvement in the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war.
That prompted many governments, including top donor the United States, to suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver aid in Gaza, although several have since resumed payments.
An independent review of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its main allegations.
In a draft statement, the G7 leaders repeated concern at the “unacceptable number of civilian casualties” in the Hamas-Israel war, now into its ninth month. They again endorsed a truce and hostage release deal.
The Gaza war began after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,266 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.


Hezbollah intensifies attacks against Israel after women die in Jannata raid

Hezbollah intensifies attacks against Israel after women die in Jannata raid
Updated 14 June 2024
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Hezbollah intensifies attacks against Israel after women die in Jannata raid

Hezbollah intensifies attacks against Israel after women die in Jannata raid
  • Israel’s phosphorus bombs hit villages in Tyre as Defense Minister Gallant resists diplomatic efforts to calm conflict
  • ‘Any assassination will face a fiery salvo with no geographic limits,’ Hezbollah warns Israel

BEIRUT: Hezbollah intensified its attacks on Friday after a Lebanese village was shaken by Thursday night’s Israeli strike that killed two civilian women in a house in Jannata, in Tyre.

Over 10 people, most of whom were children and women, were injured in the Jannata assault.

A security source in Lebanon described Hezbollah’s escalation in the past 48 hours as “a message to Israel stating that any assassination will be faced with a fiery salvo with no geographic limits.”

Hezbollah announced on Friday morning that “in response to the attack on Jannata in southern Lebanon, which killed and injured civilians, it bombed the Kiryat Shmona and Kfar Szold settlements with dozens of Katyusha and Falaq missiles.”

Hezbollah said it “targeted buildings used by soldiers in Metula with appropriate weapons, causing direct hits.”

In a series of statements, Hezbollah announced “targeting Al-Ramtha and Al-Semmaqah in the occupied Kfarshouba hills with missile weapons, as well as the Metula site with appropriate weapons.”

It also targeted in the afternoon “the spy systems in Misgav Am with appropriate weapons, which led to their destruction.”

Hezbollah’s attacks also reached and destroyed “the spy equipment in the Jal Al-Deir site.”

Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee said that two soldiers were slightly injured after an anti-armor missile landed in an area in northern Israel.

They were transported to the hospital for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, Khiam, on the outskirts of Deir Mimas, Kfarkila, and Odaisseh, was subject to artillery shelling.

An Israeli shell landed in the square of the Taybeh village.

Israeli artillery shelling containing internationally prohibited white phosphorus caused a fire in a neighborhood in Mays Al-Jabal.

The Tallouseh village was also shelled using phosphorus bombs.

Two cases of suffocation were reported in Kfarkila due to the eruption of fire.

The outskirts of Aita Al-Shaab in Bint Jbeil were also subject to sporadic artillery shelling, while the outskirts of Houla over the Al-Slouqi valley were subject to phosphorus shelling.

The targeted area is the closest to the Litani Line and is included in the UN Resolution 1701, which called for Israeli forces to withdraw behind the line in the context of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Israeli reconnaissance planes were seen flying over the villages and towns of Tyre.

Israeli Army Radio reported severe damage to property and infrastructure as a result of seven rockets falling in Kiryat Shmona.

Diplomatic efforts are underway to contain the accelerating developments on the Lebanese southern front.

Israeli media said Israel had shown interest in a French-American initiative to reduce tension on the northern front with Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, however, ruled out joining an initiative promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

France, the US, and Israel were set to form a contact group to work on defusing tensions on the border with Lebanon under the Macron initiative.

During the G7 summit, Macron said: “France, the US, and Israel will work within a trilateral framework on a French roadmap aimed at containing tension on the border between Israel and Lebanon.”

Gallant, however, accused France of “adopting anti-Israeli policies.”

He said: “Israel will not be a party in the trilateral framework suggested by France.”

Israeli Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi stressed: “The army is preparing to deal with Hezbollah.”

Former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz — a member who resigned from the war cabinet — said that “the best solution to end the war with Hezbollah on the northern front is a political solution.”

Gantz added: “If we can prevent a war with Lebanon through political pressure, we will do it, and if not, we will move forward.”

In his Friday sermon in Baalbak, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, the head of Hezbollah’s Shariah Council, said: “The resistance is bogging down the Israelis in Gaza’s mud, troubling it in the West Bank, and hitting it at its core by support fronts that have vowed to continue the path until the war on Gaza is stopped.”

 

 


US forces foil Houthi drone, missile, boat strikes on cargo ships

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
Updated 14 June 2024
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US forces foil Houthi drone, missile, boat strikes on cargo ships

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
  • US Central Command said its forces destroyed an air defense sensor in a Houthi-held area of Yemen, a remotely operated vessel and two patrol boats in the Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA: The US military said on Friday it had foiled a wave of drone, missile and boat strikes by Houthi militia in international trade channels off Yemen in the previous 24 hours.

The US Central Command said its forces destroyed an air defense sensor in a Houthi-held area of Yemen, a remotely operated vessel and two patrol boats in the Red Sea, all of which were regarded as dangers to international maritime commerce.

The Houthis also fired a drone and two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Red Sea, it said. The drone was destroyed and the missiles failed to hit their targets.

“The Houthis claim to be acting on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza and yet they are targeting and threatening the lives of third-country nationals who have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza,” the command said.

On Thursday, it said the Iran-backed militia targeted the Ukrainian-owned and Polish-operated bulk cargo tanker M/V Verbena as it was transiting the Gulf of Aden under the flag of Palau. A member of the crew was seriously injured in the strike but was evacuated by a US Navy ship.

The command said the vessel had nothing to do with Israel and was sailing from Malaysia to Italy carrying construction materials.

On Thursday night, the Houthis in Sanaa claimed responsibility for three strikes on ships in the previous 24 hours. Military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said in a televised statement that missiles and drones were fired at the Verbena, Seaguardian and Athina in the Red Sea after they violated their ban on visiting Israeli ports.

One of the strikes scored a direct hit on the Verbena, he said.

Since November, the Houthis have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remotely operated boats against naval and commercial vessels, mostly in the Red Sea. One ship was sunk and another seized.

The militia have said repeatedly that they attack only vessels with links to or bound for Israel in a bid to get the country to end its war in Gaza.

The US labels the Houthis as a terrorist organization and leads a task force coalition to safeguard ships and conduct strikes on sites held by the group within Yemen.

On Thursday, a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency said the attacks had led to a 90 percent decrease in shipping traffic in the Red Sea, affected 65 countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, the UAE, Qatar, Sudan and Oman, forced 29 energy and shipping companies to change their routes, and caused insurance and shipping costs to soar.

“As of mid-February, insurance premiums for Red Sea transits have risen to 0.7-1 percent of a ship’s total value, compared to less than 0.1 percent before December,” it said.

There had also been significant delays in the delivery of humanitarian supplies to aid-dependent nations like Yemen and Sudan, it said.


US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network

US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network
Updated 14 June 2024
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US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network

US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network
  • The sanctions target three supporters of a human smuggling gang linked to the group
  • The men were based in countries including Uzbekistan and Georgia

WASHINGTON: The United States slapped sanctions Friday on four individuals with ties to the Daesh group following an investigation with Turkiye, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions target three supporters of a human smuggling gang linked to the group, and one individual involved in establishing an Daesh militant training camp, the US Treasury said a statement.
The men were based in countries including Uzbekistan and Georgia, and least one individual supported Daesh members in Turkiye, according to the Treasury.
The coordinated action with Turkiye “demonstrates our continued commitment to the defense of the homeland against all terrorist threats, including Daesh,” US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Brin Nelson said in a statement.
Turkiye, which is a close US military partner and a NATO ally, is taking its own action against the Daesh-linked network, the Treasury Department said.