Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Haftar re-enlisted, dialogue pending

The UN says dialogue between combatants in Libya’s civil war is on hold because of the worsening violence, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) acknowledged this week that it has failed to set a date and place for dialogue between the warring Libyan factions. Diplomats in the UN Security Council had previously said that the dialogue was set for 5 January.

In a related development, the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, who visited Cairo earlier this week, announced that retired General Khalifa Haftar and the air force commander in Operation Dignity, along with 127 other officers, has been re-enlisted in the military.

UNSMIL spokesman Samir Ghattas told Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Tunis that the organisation has still not been able to finalise a date, place, participant list and framework of principles for dialogue between the rival Libyan factions. The mission will most likely remain unable to persuade the parties to return talks in view of the current escalation in the crisis that has gripped the country, he said.

Divisions have been growing deeper as military operations intensify and spread in scope throughout eastern and western Libya. According to the Victims of the War in Libya website, 2,801 people were killed in fighting in 2014.

Ghattas stressed that UNSMIL is still consulting with all sides in Libya to promote an agreement on a time and place for the resumption of talks. “UNSMIL has not yet set a date for the dialogue between Libyans, but it is continuing its consultations with the various parties toward this end,” he said.

Press reports in late December quoted UN Security Council diplomats as saying that the Libyan factions had agreed “in principle” to reconvene the dialogue on 5 January. The opening round of dialogue was held in Ghadames, an oasis town in southwestern Libya near the border with Algeria, on 19 September 2014.

Sponsored by UNSMIL, headed by the Spanish diplomat Bernadino Leon, it was attended by 12 members of the parliament based in Tobruk and an equal number of MPs who are boycotting that parliament.

Other sources have confirmed the UNSMIL announcement, saying that the Libyan dialogue has been deferred until further notice. AFP quoted a Libyan MP as saying that UNSMIL had informed the House of Representatives Sunday that the dialogue will be postponed indefinitely.

“The government has not yet received the dialogue agenda, activities schedule or information regarding its venue and participants. This means that the dialogue will not meet as planned on Monday,” reported AFP this week, quoting a diplomatic source.

The parliament in Tobruk reinstated retired general Haftar, air force commander in Operation Dignity Saqr Al-Jaroushi, and 127 other officers in the armed forces. The decision was taken by Speaker of Parliament Aqila Saleh Qoweidar, supreme commander of the armed forces, in response to a request submitted by the chief-of-staffs appointed by the parliament, Abdel Razeq Al-Nazouri. Said Al-Nazouri, “The return of those officers will be a great asset for the Libyan army in the war it is leading against terrorism.”

The Tobruk parliament has come under considerable pressure to legitimise Operation Dignity, launched by Haftar on 16 May 2014 to liberate Benghazi from terrorist groups. Opponents of the parliament claim that the method used to reenlist Haftar and the other officers spared Qoweidar the need to bring the matter to a vote.

They say that it would be difficult to obtain the necessary quorum for a vote on decisions of the magnitude of re-engaging military officers, not least one who was the commander of Operation Dignity.

Some observers also argue that an official vote on that subject would have exposed a division in parliament over Haftar. Even if such a division is minor, they argue, the parliament at this juncture cannot afford to display such a weakness to public opinion in eastern Libya where there are rising numbers of displaced persons due to the fighting in and around Benghazi since May.

The observers also believe that pressure from opponents of Haftar and the former officers who joined him is taking a toll on them because of their lack of official status. Some of the officers are retired, including Haftar, while others were dismissed by the General National Congress (GNC), which was officially replaced by the parliament elected last summer.

The decision to reinstate the officers was seen as a way to lift the morale of those who supported Haftar and joined Operation Dignity from the outset.

Some analysts believe that the reinstatement of the officers marks the first step towards the creation of a supreme military council, with broad political and military powers, to manage the war against terrorism. They say that the development could eliminate the parliament from the scene, especially given the repercussions of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Tripoli with respect to that body and the spread of warfare throughout the country.

In a related development, Libyan Speaker of Parliament Aqila Saleh visited Cairo on Monday and met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The two officials discussed the military conflict, conditions for Egyptian workers in Libya, some of whom have been murdered or kidnapped, and developments regarding Egyptian security and military training for the government formed by the House of Representatives sitting in Tobruk.

A statement released by the Egyptian president’s office reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to supporting legitimacy in Libya, safeguarding its territorial integrity, restoring normal life and respecting the desire of the Libyan people for self-determination. The press release also relayed the Libyan parliamentary speaker’s praise and gratitude to Egypt for “the support it gives to the legitimate institutions in Libya in various domains.”

With regard to the intensified combat, military aircraft bombarded Misrata this week for the third time in less than a month, targeting the port, the air force college and the iron and steel compound, the country’s largest industrial complex.

The spokesman for the office of the general chief-of-staffs of the Libyan army, Ahmed Al-Mismari, announced that on Sunday Libyan military planes struck fuel tanks in the western part of the northwest coastal city. The tanks provide the fuel for airplanes of the Libya Dawn operation, which have been attacking oil exporting ports and facilities in Al-Sider and nearby Ras Lanuf, he said.

Al-Mismari condemned an attack against Al-Fat security gateway, in the southern region of Sokna. The attack, which took place at dawn Friday, claimed the lives of 15 members of the army’s 168th Infantry Division. He vowed that the army’s war against terrorism would extend to every corner of Libyan territory and followers of Daesh (the Islamic State) would be killed. On Saturday, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack against Al-Fat.

Al-Mismari stressed that the parliament’s decision to re-enlist 129 officers was necessary “in view of the urgent need for them in order to carry out the war against terrorism.”

To substantiate its claim of responsibility for the dawn attack against Al-Fat security gateway Daesh posted photos on its websites under the title of “Raid of Abu Othman Al-Ansari.” Daesh said the attack was against “apostates”.

Photographs showed corpses in military uniform and military vehicles. Another showed the ritual execution of a captured soldier. This was the first time that Daesh has claimed responsibility for an attack in what it calls the “Walaya of Fazzan” in southern Libya.

The security gateway is located on the road between the town of Barak and Al-Shaweiref, on the way to Tripoli. It is 67 kilometres from Al-Shaweiref and 120 kilometres from Sokna.

The Libyan government, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, also condemned the attack and appealed to the international community and the UN to help Libya in its war against terrorism, including providing weapons and materiel.

Meanwhile, in the north, in the so-called “oil crescent”, clashes continue between forces allied with the petroleum facility’s guards and forces of the Shurouq (Sunrise) Operation, launched by the resurrected GNC to secure control over the country’s major oil exporting ports.

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