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Germany and the United States pushed Monday for a cease-fire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attack the strategic city of Sirte.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, said after talks in Rome that a cease-fire is urgent given the Egyptian threat. Di Maio also called for the quick naming of a new UN envoy and the strong enforcement of a UN arms embargo on Libya.
“If we stop the arrival of weapons, or strongly reduce them, we will be able to reduce the aggressiveness of the Libyan parties in this conflict,” Di Maio said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base by Turkish-backed forces loyal to the UN-supported but weak government in Tripoli would amount to crossing a “red line.”
He said Egypt could intervene militarily with the intention of protecting its western border with the oil-rich country, and of bringing stability — including establishing conditions for a cease-fire — to Libya.
In a tweet Monday, the US National Security Council called for Libya’s long-delayed political negotiation to resume.
“The United States strongly opposes military escalation in #Libya — on all sides. We urge parties to commit to a cease-fire and resume negotiations immediately,” the tweet said.
Haas said the Egyptian threat indicated that a further escalation of the Libyan conflict was possible.
“This makes it all the more urgent to agree on a cease-fire now,” he said.
Di Maio, for his part, said Italy was prepared to provide even more contributions to a naval and air mission to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, saying it will be crucial even after a cease-fire is signed.
“In the coming days we will have talks with the Libyan parties to try to bring forward as soon as possible the signing of a cease-fire,” Di Maio said. “Even once there is a cease-fire, I think the (arms embargo) mission will continue to be important, because especially with a cease-fire, we have to limit the arrival of weapons in Libya.”
Italy is particularly concerned that any escalation of the conflict will unleash more waves of migrants onto smugglers’ boats headed for Italian shores. The coronavirus emergency in hard-hit Italy stemmed their arrivals, but authorities fear that the numbers will swell again with the health emergency easing and the return to the Mediterranean Sea of humanitarian rescue ships.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Eastern-based forces under Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to try to take Tripoli in April last year. Haftar’s forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war earlier this month after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake Sirte, which could open the gate for them to control oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.
Source: Arab News