Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base by Libya's government forces would result in Egyptian military intervention.

Libyan Army members are seen as they make preparations at Ebu Gireyn and Viske regions within their operation named
Libyan Army members are seen as they make preparations at Ebu Gireyn and Viske regions within their operation named "Path of Victory" launched to save the Sirte city of Libya on June 14, 2020. (AA)

Italy, Germany and the United States are pushing for a ceasefire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt that it would intervene militarily if UN-backed government forces attack the strategic city of Sirte.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, said after talks in Rome on Monday, that a ceasefire 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 Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base by Libya's government forces 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 ceasefire.

The Tripoli-based government said it considered Sisi's comments a “declaration of war,” while warlord Khalifa Haftar's militia in the east, welcomed his support.

Read more: Can Sisi win Haftar’s war in Libya?

Bodies are found in a number of mass graves in Tarhuna after the province liberated from the militia loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar, in Libya on June 11, 2020.
Bodies are found in a number of mass graves in Tarhuna after the province liberated from the militia loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar, in Libya on June 11, 2020. (AA)

"Last thing"

Reacting to Egypts announcement, the UN said the "last thing" Libya needs is more conflict on its territory.

"It is clear that the last thing Libya needs right now is more fighting, more military mobilisation, more transfer of weapons, more presence of either foreign fighters or mercenaries on its soil," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric during his daily press conference.

"We're alarmed by the continued military mobilisation in central Libya, particularly in Sirte," and by the "flagrant violations of the arms embargo," Dujarric said.

He added it was "important for none of the parties to do anything that would make the situation worse."

Need for military pause

US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of Africa Command, and US Ambassador Richard Norland meanwhile met with Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj in the Libyan capital, according to a statement from the US Embassy.

It said the two US officials stressed the “need for military pause and return to negotiations.”

"All sides need to return to UN-led ceasefire and political negotiations because this tragic conflict is robbing all Libyans of their future,” Townsend said.

Turmoil started in 2011

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, 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.

The internationally-recognised Libyan government has been under attack by warlord Khalifa Haftar's militia since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.

Haftar’s militias are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-based internationally-recognised government are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.

Dujarric said Haftar's failed campaign to capture Tripoli set off a humanitarian crisis, with 1 million people in need of aid and almost a half million people internally displaced.

Government 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 are now poised to retake Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that warlord Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his attack on Tripoli.

With the recent retreat of Haftar's militia from their last western stronghold of Tarhuna and the discovery of several mass graves in the area, calls have mounted for a transparent investigation into possible war crimes. 

Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, said Monday that her office had received credible reports of eleven mass graves containing men, women and children.

New UN Mission to document human rights violation

In Geneva, the UN-backed Human Rights Council agreed unanimously to call for the immediate creation and deployment of a one-year fact-finding mission to document rights abuses and violations in Libya since 2016.

The 47-member-state body asked the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to appoint experts for the mission and called on Libyan authorities to grant “unhindered access” to the country and the right to speak with anyone they choose.

Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the step as “a wake-up call to warlords and armed groups that they could be held accountable for serious crimes committed by their rank and file."

Read more: The hidden human calamity in Libya

Source: TRTWorld and agencies