Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi says advances by Libya's UN-recognised unity government to strategic city of Sirte could prompt an Egyptian military intervention, a warning Tripoli-based government denounces.
Egypt's president has warned that an attempt by forces Libya's UN-recognised unity government to attack the strategic city of Sirte would cross a "red line" and trigger a direct Egyptian military "intervention" into the conflict.
Libya's government immediately rejected the warning, and called it "interference in Libyan affairs."
Abdel Fattah el Sisi, in televised comments on Saturday, said Egypt could intervene in neighbouring Libya with the intention of protecting its western border with the oil-rich country, and to bring stability, including establishing conditions for a cease-fire, to Libya.
Sisi warned that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra airbase by forces loyal to the UN-supported government in Tripoli would amount to crossing a "red line."
"Any direct intervention by Egypt has become internationally legitimate, whether under the UN charter on self defence or based on the sole legitimate authority elected by the Libyan people: the Libyan parliament," Sisi said.
"Let's stop at this (current) front line and start negotiations to reach a political solution to the Libyan crisis," he said.
Libya government hits back
Libya's UN-recognised government immediately denounced a warning, saying this would be considered a "threat to national security".
"We strongly reject what was said by al Sisi and consider it a continuation of the war on the Libyan people, interference in Libyan affairs and a dangerous threat to national security," said Mohammed Amari Zayed, a member of the Tripoli-based government's presidential council.
Advance of Tripoli govenrment
Sisi's strong comments come after Libyan earlier this month advanced toward Sirte, ignoring Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire, backed by Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Taking Sirte would open the gate for the Tripoli-allied forces to advance even farther eastward, to potentially seize control of vital oil installations, terminals, and oil fields that tribes allied with Haftar shut down earlier this year, cutting off Libya's major source of income.
Turmoil since 2011
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a Western-backed civil war toppled long-time dictator 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 eastern-based illegal militia of Haftar launched an offensive to try to take Tripoli in April last year. The chaos has steadily worsened as foreign backers have increasingly intervened, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Haftar’s forces are backed by France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia. Turkey, on the other hand, backs the UN-backed Tripoli government.
Ankara's intervention led to a sudden shift in front lines this month as Libya's army pushed back the Haftar's illegal militias and its allies from most of northwest Libya towards the central coastal city of Sirte.
The Libyan army recently inflicted heavy blows on Haftar and liberated Tripoli and Tarhuna, in addition to other strategic locations, including Al Watiya airbase, from his militias.
Also on Saturday, Turkey said warlord Haftar's militia need to withdraw from the strategic city of Sirte for a lasting ceasefire and accused France of "jeopardising" NATO security by backing him.
Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, told AFP news agency that Turkey supports the position of the UN-recognised GNA in Tripoli and that Sirte and Al Jufra should be evacuated by Haftar's forces for a "sustainable ceasefire."