Egypt announces initiative to end war in Libya

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s President on Saturday announced a unilateral initiative to end the civil war in neighbouring Libya, a plan that was accepted by Khalifa Hifter, commander of the eastern forces that have suffered heavy losses in recent weeks.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi told a news conference in Cairo that his initiative includes a cease-fire starting today and is meant to pave the way for elections in oil-rich Libya. He warned against continuing to look for a military solution to the country’s crisis.

“There can be no stability in Libya unless peaceful means to the crisis are found that include the unity and integrity of the national institutions,” el-Sissi said. “The initiative could be a new start in Libya.”

There was no immediate comment from the United Nations (UN)-supported government based in Tripoli, Hifter’s rival. But a spokesman for the military forces allied with it said they would continue fighting to capture the city of Sirte, east of Tripoli, which Hifter’s forces took in January.

Mohamed Gnono said Tripoli-allied forces on Saturday took control of the town of al-Washka east of the important port city of Misrata. “We did not start this war, but it is we who will determine when and where it will end,” he said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. PHOTO: AP

The conference in Cairo was attended by Hifter and Aguila Saleh, speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. Several foreign diplomats, including United States (US), Russian, French and Italian envoys attended. Hifter and Saleh are allies.

There were no representatives of the Tripoli-based administration, or of its main backers, Turkey and Qatar, at the conference.

Egypt’s initiative comes on the heels of Hifter’s major losses in western Libya and failure to carry on with a major offensive to seize control of Tripoli that Hifter launched in April last year.

The future of the conflict in Libya appears to be open to one of two scenarios: de-escalation or a full-blown proxy war with major regional and international powers involved in outright conflict.

It was yet to be seen whether the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) will continue to press eastward to seize control of the vital oil installations, terminals and fields that tribes allied with Hifter shut down earlier this year. The shut-down paralysed the country’s major source of income.

El-Sissi’s plan also comes amid the backdrop of US warnings against Russia’s “fanning the flames” of the conflict, saying that it could deploy its own forces in Tunisia to deter the Russians from destabilising North Africa.

It also remained to be seen what will happen if the GNA turns down Egypt’s olive branch. Heavier involvement by Turkey in Libya could propel Egypt to act defensively by getting more involved militarily in Libya.

The plan also includes the unification of all Libyan financial and oil institutions, and the disbanding of militias, so that the so-called Libyan National Army and other security agencies can “carry out their responsibilities,” el-Sissi said, without elaborating.