City elections in Misrata and those planned across western and southern Libya could help pave the way for nationwide elections.
Voters in the western Libyan city of Misrata are heading to the polls to elect municipal leaders.
Thursday’s vote in the war-torn country’s third-largest city and those planned across western and southern Libya could help pave the way for nationwide elections, but the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has accused renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces of disrupting planned polls elsewhere.
“Unfortunately in eastern Libya they are going back to individual rule and they don’t have the freedom to vote,” Mohamed Shaafe, an election trainer, said.
“Elected officials were removed from office.”
‘Voting only solution’ A major oil producer, Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The country has since been divided into two rival camps that are based in the country’s east and west – and that in recent years have been vying for power.
The conflict escalated in April last year when Haftar, who is supported by Russian mercenaries, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, announced an offensive to wrest control of the capital from the United Nations-recognised GNA.
Backed by Turkey, the GNA in early June succeeded in repelling Haftar, driving his self-styled Libyan National Army to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte.
Last month, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj offered a ceasefire and called for the demilitarisation of Sirte, a city located roughly halfway between Tripoli and Haftar’s bastion city of Benghazi.
Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Haftar-allied House of Representatives in Tobruk, has expressed support for the ceasefire initiative but Haftar rejected it, calling it a stunt aimed at catching the LNA off-guard.
Misrata, home to some 500,000 people, is a main source of military power for the GNA. Troops from the city played a major role in the GNA’s series of military victories that forced Haftar’s forces out of western Libya and towards the east.
“Some Libyans here say voting is the only solution to the conflict which has lasted years, but Haftar is removing elected city officials and issuing military orders to appoint their replacements,” Reporting from Misrata, Noble Reporters Media said.
“And with elections unlikely to be held in areas he controls, how and when the Libyan conflict will end remains unclear.”
At Istanbul meeting, Russia and Turkey agree to push for a ceasefire but Ankara says eastern commander must retreat.
Turkey and Russia agreed on Wednesday to press for a ceasefire in war-ravaged Libya, but Ankara said the leader of the eastern forces was illegitimate and must withdraw from key positions for a credible truce to take hold.
Moscow and Ankara are among the main power brokers in Libya’s conflict while supporting opposing sides. Russia backs the eastern-based forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, while Turkey has helped the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) repel Haftar’s attempt to storm the capital.
“We’ve just reached an agreement with Russia to work on a credible and sustainable ceasefire in Libya,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top security adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, told Reuters news agency.
Kalin said any deal must be based on a return to what he said were the Libyan front lines in 2015, requiring Haftar’s forces to pull back from the strategic city of Sirte – gateway to Libya’s eastern oilfields – and al-Jufra, an airbase near the centre of the country.
“For the ceasefire to be sustainable, Jufra and Sirte should be evacuated by Haftar’s forces,” Kalin said.
Battle for Sirte Turkish-backed forces allied with the UN-recognised government in the capital are mobilising on the edges of Sirte and have vowed to retake the Mediterranean city along with the inland al-Jufra airbase.
The United States has said Moscow sent warplanes to al-Jufra via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Russia and the LNA both deny this.
Egypt, which also backs the LNA, has threatened to send troops into neighbouring Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte. The Egyptian parliament on Sunday gave a green light for possible military intervention.
Kalin said any Egyptian deployment in Libya would hamper efforts to end the fighting and would be risky for Cairo. “I believe it will be a dangerous military adventure for Egypt.”
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said on Wednesday achieving a political solution in Libya requires a “firm” response to “extremists” and foreign interference, which “not only threaten Egypt’s interests but also the security of Mediterranean countries”.
He noted a peace proposal announced in Cairo last month aimed at stabilising Libya and eliminating armed fighters and militias in the oil-rich country.
The proposal announced by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi included a ceasefire and a new elected presidential body representing the three Libyan regions. The east Libya camp accepted the proposal, dubbed the Cairo Declaration, while the Tripoli-based administration rejected it.
Wednesday’s joint agreement by Turkey and Russia on their ceasefire efforts included a call for measures to allow humanitarian access to those in need and efforts to promote political dialogue between the rival Libya sides.
But Kalin said Haftar had violated previous truce deals and was not a reliable partner, suggesting other figures in the east should play a role.
“We don’t take [Haftar] as a legitimate actor anyway,” he said. “But there is another parliament in Tobruk. There are other players in Benghazi. The negotiations will have to take place between them.”
The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 revolution against longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia’s foreign ministry said it backs a ceasefire and political talks that would culminate in united governing authorities. Russia has received senior delegations from both sides of the Libyan conflict in Moscow and tried and failed to get Haftar to sign up to a ceasefire agreement.
‘All kinds of bullying’ Shukry’s comments came in separate phone calls with France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, according to a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry.
Erdogan, meanwhile, chaired a high-level security meeting that focused on Libya on Wednesday.
A statement released at the end of the National Security Council meeting said Turkey would not hesitate to take all steps necessary against “all kinds of bullying” taking place in Libya.
The council promised to “stand by the people of Libya against any tyranny”.
Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other foreign powers have provided Haftar’s forces with critical military assistance.
Russia also sent hundreds of mercenaries through the Wagner Group, a private military company.
Move comes as Libya gov’t and Turkey demand an end of foreign intervention in support of commander Khalifa Haftar.
Egypt’s parliament authorised the deployment of troops outside the country after the president threatened military action against Turkish-backed forces in neighbouring Libya.
The parliament unanimously approved “the deployment of members of the Egyptian armed forces on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders to defend Egyptian national security … against criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”, it said in a statement.
The deployment would be made on a “western front” – a likely reference to western neighbour Libya. The move could bring Egypt and Turkey – which support rival sides in Libya’s chaotic proxy war – into direct confrontation.
Egypt’s House of Representatives, packed with supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, approved the plan after a closed-door session on Monday.
Libya gov’t vows response after base hit by ‘foreign air force’ Stephanie Williams, acting head of the UN support mission in Libya, on Monday called for an “immediate ceasefire … to spare the 125,000 civilians who remain in harm’s way and for an end to the blatant violations of the UN arms embargo”.
Her comments came following her meeting on Sunday with the president of neighbouring Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
‘Putschist Haftar’ Turkey, meanwhile, demanded an “immediate” end to the support for rebel commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya after trilateral talks held in Ankara between Libyan, Turkish, and Maltese officials on Monday.
“It is essential that all kind of help and support given to putschist Haftar – which prohibits ensuring Libya’s peace, tranquillity, security, and territorial integrity – ends immediately,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Haftar’s backers should “stop supporting an unrealistic and wrong project”, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga said.
Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia have been backing Haftar’s eastern-based forces in the conflict, while Turkey supports the GNA.
An Egyptian intervention would further destabilise oil-rich Libya.
Egypt’s president warned in June that any attack on Sirte or the inland al-Jufra airbase would prompt Cairo to intervene militarily, purportedly to protect its western border with Libya.
The GNA denounced Egypt’s threat of military intervention in the North African nation, labelling it a “declaration of war”.
Qatar’s state minister for defence affairs met on Monday with the Turkish defence minister and Libya’s minister of interior to discuss the latest developments in Libya, Qatar’s defence ministry said.
Regional proxy war Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.
The country is now split between a government in the east, allied with Haftar, and one in Tripoli, in the west, recognised by the United Nations.
The conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war fuelled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.
The United States has grown increasingly concerned about Moscow’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed a failed attempt by Haftar’s forces to capture Tripoli.
In a call on Monday with US President Donald Trump, el-Sisi emphasised Egypt’s aim to “prevent further deterioration of security in Libya”, according to a statement from the Egyptian presidential spokesman. It said the two leaders agreed on maintaining a ceasefire and avoiding a military escalation in Libya.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram daily reported on Sunday the vote in Parliament was intended to mandate el-Sisi to “intervene militarily in Libya to help defend the western neighbour against Turkish aggression”.
Last week, el-Sisi hosted dozens of tribal leaders loyal to Haftar in Cairo, where he repeated that Egypt would “not stand idly by in the face of moves that pose a direct threat to security”.
Libya’s eastern-based parliament that supports Haftar also urged el-Sisi to send troops.
GNA’s upper hand Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the GNA in April last year, but the campaign stalemated after reaching the outskirts of the Libyan capital.
The LNA suffered a blow last month when GNA forces – with Turkish air and logistics support – pushed it back and gained the upper hand in the fighting.
The Tripoli forces retook the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city, and a string of key towns in the region. GNA troops pushed on eastward vowing to also retake Sirte, which Haftar captured earlier this year.
Seizing the strategic city would open the door for the Turkish-backed forces to advance even further eastward and potentially take vital oil installations, terminals and fields now under Haftar’s control.
The Government of National Accord says it will recapture city of Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals.
Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte.
The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital, Tripoli, before the new front line solidified between Misrata and Sirte.
Backed by Turkey, the GNA has said it will recapture Sirte and an LNA airbase at Jufra.
But Egypt, which backs the LNA alongside the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, has threatened to send troops into Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte.
The United States has said Moscow has sent warplanes to Jufra via Syria to act in support of Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA. Moscow and the LNA both deny this.
The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising which led to the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
EU countries threaten sanctions Meanwhile, leaders of France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday they were “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating an arms embargo in Libya.
The statement did not directly name any foreign actors funnelling arms to Libya but multiple powers have been sending fighters and weapons, fuelling a bloody proxy war that reflects wider geopolitical rifts and divisions in the Middle East and within NATO.
“We … urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council,” the statement said.
“We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said they, therefore, “look forward to the proposals the EU High Representative/Vice President will make to this end.”
Voicing “grave concerns” over the escalating military tensions in Libya, they urged “all Libyan parties and their foreign supporters for an immediate cessation of fighting and for a stop of the ongoing military build-up throughout the country”.
NOC urges foreign mercenaries to leave Also on Saturday, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from oil facilities in the country.
In a statement, the NOC condemned the deployment of Russia’s Wagner Group and Syrian and Janjaweed mercenaries in Libyan oil installations, most recently at Es Sidra port.
The NOC demands their immediate withdrawal from all facilities, it said, calling the UN to send observers to supervise the demilitarisation in the areas of NOC operations across the country.
There are currently large numbers of foreign mercenaries in NOC facilities who do not share this wish, the statement said.
On Sunday, the NOC accused the UAE of instructing forces loyal to Haftar of disrupting the country’s oil output and exports.
Libya, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, can produce 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day. However, production has fallen below 100,000 barrels a day due to interruptions by pro-Haftar fighters over the past six months.
Egyptian president warned of ‘direct’ intervention in Libya, citing the need to protect Egypt’s porous border.
Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has denounced Egypt’s warning of military intervention in Libya, labelling it a “declaration of war”.
On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned that if pro-GNA forces advanced on the strategic city of Sirte – some 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the capital Tripoli – it could provoke a “direct” intervention by Cairo.
He also ordered the Egyptian army to be ready to carry out missions inside or outside of the country to protect its national security amid tensions over Turkey’s intervention in Libya.
In response, the GNA said in a statement that Egypt’s move was “a hostile act and direct interference, and amounts to a declaration of war”.
The statement comes on the eve of a virtual meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Libya, in which the GNA declined to participate.
For the Libyan state, “interference in its internal affairs, attacks on its sovereignty, whether by declarations … like those of the Egyptian president or by support for putschists, militias and mercenaries, is unacceptable”, the GNA said.
It said it was open to “all impartial mediation … under the aegis of the UN” but rejected “unilateral or extrajudicial initiatives”.
Oil-rich Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed 2011 uprising toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2015, a power struggle has pitted the Tripoli-based GNA against renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who claims legitimacy from an eastern-based elected parliament.
Haftar has been trying unsuccessfully to seize the capital since April 2019, with support from Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
Since the start of June, increased Turkish support has enabled pro-GNA forces to take control of northwest Libya, ending Haftar’s assault on Tripoli.
The GNA advance is now halted outside the coastal city of Sirte, a strategic access point to Libya’s key oil fields which remains under Haftar’s control.
Sirte and Al-Jufra to the south represent a “red line”, el-Sisi said in a television broadcast on Saturday, citing the need to protect Egypt’s porous border.
If this line is crossed, Egyptian forces will directly intervene in Libya, el-Sisi said.
“All of Libya is a red line,” the GNA responded. “Whatever the dispute between Libyans, we will not allow our people to be insulted or threatened.”
But the speaker of Libya’s eastern-based parliament, Aguila Saleh, defended el-Sisi’s declaration, saying in a Sunday statement that the Egyptian president was “responding to our appeal to the Egyptian parliament” last January in which Saleh called for Egyptian intervention in Libya.
And on Sunday, the Jordanian foreign ministry issued a statement saying Amman supports Cairo “against any threat to the security and stability” of Egypt.
It came after the foreign ministers of both countries discussed the Libya conflict over the phone.