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Al-Sarraj warns of civil war in Libya and UN calls for de-escalation

Libyans walk through a market road near the Libyan capital Tripoli's Martyr Square on April 6, 2019. - Anti-government forces led by Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar said Saturday they had been targeted by an air strike about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Tripoli. [Mahmud TURKIA / AFP / Getty]
Libyans walk through a market road near the Libyan capital Tripoli's Martyr Square on 6 April 2019 [Mahmud TURKIA / AFP / Getty]

Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez Al-Sarraj warned his rival, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, of a “strong and firm” confrontation and accused him of “breaking the covenant” by attacking the capital Tripoli, where the headquarters of the Government of National Accord is. He likewise warned of “a close war in which there would be no winner.”

On Saturday, Haftar forces continued their attack against Tripoli despite calls from the international community to halt it. The United Nations confirmed that the national conference on the country would be held despite the ongoing military operations.

Al-Sarraj said in a televised interview: “We have agreed on peace covenant. However, after the attack by Haftar’s forces, his declaration of war on our cities and capital, and thus his announcement of a coup against the political agreement, he will only face our strong and firm confrontation.”

Al-Sarraj reminded of the arrangements he had made during previous meetings with Haftar, saying his opponent has “broken the covenant” and “tried to stab him in the back.”

The two officials have repeatedly met in recent years. During their recent meeting at the end of February in Abu Dhabi, they have reached an agreement to work on forming a unified government and holding elections before the end of the year.

Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez Al-Sarraj

Al-Sarraj added that the National Conference scheduled for April constitutes a path towards “a stable state to build a civil and democratic state.” He said that Haftar is “driven by personal desires and individual fervours,” accusing him of working to undermine “the political process and drowning the country into a cycle of violence and destructive war.”

UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé announced that the National Conference would be held despite Haftar’s attack on Tripoli.

Salamé said in a press conference in Tripoli: “We are determined to hold the conference between the Libyan parties on the scheduled date between 14 and 16 April, unless compelling circumstances force us not to hold it.”

On Thursday, Haftar’s forces launched an attack on Tripoli, where the headquarters of the Government of National Accord is based and led by Al-Sarraj, who ordered his troops to confront the attack.

The UN-sponsored national conference is scheduled to be held in Ghadames, western Libya, to create a “road map” to get the country out of chaos and out of an unprecedented political and economic crisis since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Read: UN to hold Libya conference as planned despite surge in fighting

“We want to reassure the Libyans that we are standing beside the people to achieve a successful political process without resorting to escalation,” Salamé added.

He reiterated the calls of UN Secretary-General António Guterres for “de-escalation and returning to the political process”.

On Saturday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the Libyan crisis in a telephone conversation with Guterres and reiterated his support for UN mediation in Libya, according to the Élysée Palace.

The French presidency said in a statement that the two officials “stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to the current crisis, following humanitarian law and UN Security Council resolutions.”

On Friday, Guterres concluded his first visit to Libya since he took office in 2016. During the visit, he met Al-Sarraj in Tripoli and Haftar in Benghazi. On his departure, he said: “I am leaving Libya with deep concern,” expressing his hope that “a bloody confrontation could ultimately be avoided in Tripoli and its surroundings.”

General Haftar

On the ground, the forces of Haftar were subjected, on Saturday, to an air strike about 50 kilometres from Tripoli.

The Libyan National Army War Information Division stated: “We strongly condemn the brutal terrorist bombing of civilians in the Aziziya district by armed terrorist militia planes that were launched from the secondary airfield in Misrata”, adding: “Our response will be very harsh on these terrorists, in order to ensure the protection of civilians and avoid the recurrence of such an attack.”

READ: Libya’s Grand Mufti urges public to fight Haftar forces

The largest part of the forces based in Misrata is loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli.

The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF), an alliance of armed factions loyal to the Government of National Accord, confirmed that “heavy” air raids were launched on the Libyan National Army from Meteika airport in Tripoli and Misrata. Thus, the TPF indicated on its Facebook page that “the enemy gangs are retreating from all axes.”

The battles have been renewed between both sides, especially in the areas of Wadi Al-Rabi and Qasr bin Ghashir, about 40 kilometres south of Tripoli, according to AFP’s correspondents.

Tripoli under attack

Diplomatically, France, Italy and Germany are exerting pressures on Haftar, demanding him to stop his offensive attack against Tripoli and be committed to the UN-sponsored peace process.

During the foreign ministers of G7 nations meeting in Dinard, north-west France, French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said: “It is fundamental that there will be no military victory in Libya, the solution can only be political. The adversities of the past should be overcome to serve the interests of the Libyan people.”

Italian foreign minister, Enzo Mwaviro Milanese, stressed the convergence of views among the G7 ministers on the Libyan crisis, telling reporters that “no one is ready to accept a military fait accompli”. In turn, his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, highlighted the need to convince Haftar about returning to self-control policy.

Maas asserted: “We must use all means of pressure at hands to persuade the conflicting Libyan parties, especially Haftar, to ensure that there will be no military escalation.”

Foreign Ministers from the G7

These positions expressed by the G7 foreign ministers came after the UN Security Council’s call on Haftar’s forces to “stop all military action” at the end of an emergency meeting on Friday.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, reasserted his rejection of fixing “fake dates” for the political settlement in Libya.

During a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, in Cairo, Lavrov stated: “We share the same position with Egypt. We hope that the Libyans will decide their future and start a comprehensive dialogue without any fake dates imposed on them from abroad, without pushing them to speed up the process against their will.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, stated that “over the past years, the situation in Libya has been worrisome about the widespread of terrorism, especially in the south of the country,”, referring to his country’s support for “the unification of the Libyan military establishment and state institutions.”

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