Libyan fighters allied with the country’s internationally recognized government pushed their advance into the strategic city of Sirte, spurred by recent gains on the battlefield and the withdrawal of forces from renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar from the capital, Tripoli.
Monday’s push came despite a unilateral weekend ceasefire proposal from Egypt, support for the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Hifter, who led a campaign of a year to try to capture the capital.
Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha of the internationally recognized National Accord Government (GNA) said the government would only enter into political talks after taking Sirte and the Jufra indoor air base to the south.
GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj urged his troops to “continue on their way” to Sirte, according to a statement issued by Mohamed Gnunu, spokesman for the Allied forces in Tripoli. Gnunu published images of tanks and vehicles that were allegedly captured on the outskirts of Sirte.
|Haftar proposed ceasefire in Libya|
Haftar’s military media unit, however, said its forces destroyed a military society that included Hausers and Turkish-made tanks, as well as a bus that would carry Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries who helped the militias. Tripoli.
Two Sirte residents said bombing by Tripoli militias killed at least eight civilians on Monday and injured six others in the town of Thalatheen, 30 km (18 miles) west of Sirte. Residents have declared anonymity for fear of reprisals. There were no immediate comments from the Tripoli militias.
The Libyan Red Crescent in Sirte said the dead included a family of seven.
A proposal for a unilateral ceasefire this weekend by Egypt – support for Libyan forces commanded by Haftar, who waged a year-long campaign to capture Tripoli – was rejected by the GNA.
Supported by Turkey, GNA forces took over last week after taking over the capital’s airport, all of the city’s main entry and exit points, and a series of key cities, forcing fighters de Hafter to step down – defeat their command painted as a tactical measure to give the UN-backed peace process a chance.
On Monday, Haftar’s forces continued to lose ground against the GNA, which pushed towards Sirte.
” I talked to [GNA] the military leaders here on the ground and they told me that yesterday they had made significant gains, “said Malik Traina of Al Jazeera, coming from Abu Grein, 140 km (87 miles) to the west of Sirte.
“They entered the western gates of Sirte … and control this area. They also entered Wadi al-Jarf, which is south of Sirte, “he said.
“According to our sources, many forces loyal to Haftar have withdrawn to eastern Libya, but one force remains in Sirte. And whether or not they will continue the battle, we will have to find out. “
The Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte is a key gateway to the country’s main oil fields to the east, still held by Haftar’s forces.
Taking Sirte would open the way for Allied fighters in Tripoli to push further east and potentially take control of the vital oil installations, terminals and oil fields that the Allied tribes of Haftar closed earlier this year, cutting the Libya’s main source of income.
On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi proposed a ceasefire from Monday, which was accepted by Haftar and Aguila Saleh, president of a rival parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk, but refused by the GNA.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted Monday that the initiative “strengthens Arab and international momentum for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the return to the political way “.
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Libya’s forces based in the east are supported by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as by France and Russia.
But recently Saleh has said that Russia wants to resume negotiations with the Tripoli government because it no longer sees a positive result in Haftar’s offensive.
Mahmoud Abdelwahed of Al Jazeera, who reported on Tripoli, said: ” This potential meeting in Moscow has not yet been announced by either Russia or Tripoli, indicating that the GNA here in Tripoli is not keen to let its local allies know that it is once again entering into talks with the rival eastern administration. ”
Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of The International Interest, a London-based risk consultancy group, said that Russia was trying to push for a political settlement that would include all warring factions.
“I think Russia is trying to reduce the power of Haftar, but is not completely getting rid of him,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Al-Sarraj is in a delicate position; if he seems enthusiastic about the talks, he will lose at the national level, but if he does not go to these talks, he risks losing Turkish support and the general leadership of the GNA. “
Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and then killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Haftar – a 76-year-old former Gaddafi loyalist who became a defector who spent years living in the United States – has promised to rule all of Libya.
Tarek Megerisi, member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that Egypt was overwhelmed by Haftar’s “reckless adventurism”.
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“Egypt has a direct security interest in Libya and having a security partner to work with in eastern Libya is of paramount importance to them, which is why they were so concerned,” said he declared.
However, Egypt is still “invested in the diplomatic propagation of the Haftar project, providing it with political support and militarily supporting its war effort,” said Megerisi.
But at the same time, Egypt “is looking for other options and means to protect its interests as they become less and less certain that it [Haftar] will win, “he added.
Although Egypt is likely to invest more in protecting its interests in the East, it has no appetite for a direct confrontation with the main GNA donor, Turkey, analysts said.
“Egypt’s interests in Libya and the Mediterranean are primarily represented in the security of their western border and the sovereignty of their exclusive economic zone,” said Jalel Harchaoui of The Hague-based Clingendael Institute.
“Turkey … will likely respect the economic and security interests of Egypt in order to avoid any form of direct confrontation. “