United Nations Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, began a diplomatic tour of Libya’s municipalities on Tuesday in a bid to secure their cooperation in supporting the UN brokered dialogue aimed at forming a unity government out of the country’s two rival parliamentary bodies.
“The United Nations Support Mission in Libya [UNSMIL] has repeatedly emphasised the importance of security and military officials from the conflicting sides engaging in dialogue,” Leon said in a press release from the city of Misrata after meeting with the city’s provincial council and leaders from the city’s militia, the largest in the country.
“The cooperation of the armed groups is crucial for restoring peace and stability to Libya,” expressing his hopes of reaching a halt in armed conflict in the country.
His statements came as the air forces loyal to Libya’s rival House of Representatives (HoR) assembly released a statement threatening to conduct air strikes against any and all European Union vessels entering Libyan waters to conduct rescue operations aiming to save migrants in the Mediterranean.
"Any vessel found in Libyan waters without previous cooperation or permission will be targeted by the air force," HoR air force Commander Saqr Al-Jaroushi told Reuters.
The announcement came as the air force of the Tripoli based General National Council (GNC) government conducted air strikes against positions held by ISIS in the central Libyan city of Sirte.
“Warplanes of the air force of the National Salvation government [GNC] conducted air strikes last night on an internal security building in Sirte,” defence ministry spokesperson Mohamed Abdulkafi said.
“The strikes targeted a gathering of militants of ISIS. No figures of casualties from the strikes have been reported so far.”
Local witnesses in the city told Reuters that multiple bombs struck an old Gaddafi era military headquarters, and dozens of wounded ISIS fighters were dragged out of the building after the strikes.
The latest developments come as the UN and EU held deliberations with Libya’s three most powerful bodies - the GNC, the Misratan Council and the HoR - looking to expedite the formation of a new joint government agreed upon, in principle, by the three bodies.
Libya has been divided between two parliamentary bodies since the rival House of Representatives (HoR) was formed after a largely boycotted election with a turnout of less than 20 percent. Following this, armed attempts by HoR-loyal militias failed to forcibly disband the General National Council - the Libyan parliament formed with the help of the UN and NATO following the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The conflict in Libya led to widespread clashes when HoR army head Khalifa Haftar launched “Operation Dignity” in an armed bid to capture the cities of Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli from the GNC last August, with fighting in Benghazi remaining heated ever since.
Now operating out of the eastern border town of Tobruk, the HoR enjoys greater international influence than the GNC, though the GNC retains control over most of Libya’s internal affairs.
Due to the lack of order in eastern Libya, ISIS was able to expand its influence uncontested on the ground, occupying Derna and parts of the central city of Sirte where forces from the Tripoli-allied Dawn Alliance’s 166th Misratan battalion continue to clash with the militants.