On Thursday, Turkish president Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Putin called for a ceasefire to end the fighting in Libya, to come into effect early Sunday morning (midnight). The two leaders announced this statement after their much anticipated meeting in Turkey.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned of Libya becoming a Syrian style civil war and backed the ceasefire calls – encouraging the sides to enter a political process.
Just last week, Turkey authorised a military agreement with Libya’s GNA and began sending troops. Meanwhile, Turkey and the GNA have accused Russia of sending mercenaries, estimated around 2500, to back Haftar’s LNA. Russia has repeatedly denied these claims.
Relatedly, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte met with Haftar in Rome. He was set to meet with the GNA PM al-Serraj, but the latter cancelled that meeting after being misinformed that the Italians asked to meet with Haftar when in Libya.
China, which has remained quiet regarding the Libya conflict, said it opposes military action in Libya. China supports a “Libyan-led and Libyan-owned” political process led by the UN, and called on both sides to resume dialogue and reach a cease fire. He said China maintains contact with both sides of the conflict.
On a tour of African countries, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, in Cairo, said that “China has noticed the recent escalation… we always believe that the Libyan issue can only be truly and properly settled by political means.”
Wang will also visit Djibouti, Eritrea, Burundi and Zimbabwe, as part of a tradition where Chinese foreign ministers make their first foreign visit to the African continent to stress the high value they place on Beijing’s relationship with these countries. China is dependent on African natural resources, and is including many of these countries in its One Belt One Road initiative. Yi also met with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Sec. Generation of the Arab League, who rejected foreign interference in Libya.
Analysts are warning that Turkey’s decision to provide military support to the Tripoli-based GNA “could predicate its demise”, since the GNA “has hardly any ally, except a few on paper”.
According to Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University, "At the moment, the situation seems to be working on the side of Haftar. He has better weapons. He has jet fighters. He has superiority on the air and in the field,"… "I am not sure what kind of soldiers Turkey will send there."
Bagci added, "Erdogan has played the card. He will not allow the Tripoli government to fall. He will defend to the last man, because Erdogan has played a big card, a big gamble. But the arrival of Turkish troops may yet change the psychology, the balance of forces in Libya."
Former Turkish ambassador Mithat Rende suggests Ankara may be banking that its Libya move forces regional rivals to the negotiating table.
Aktar disagrees. "We haven't seen any diplomatic action in months, if not years, on seeking negotiation," he said. "The only action we've seen (is) aggressive deals and moves by Ankara. So, the final aims can be diplomacy and negotiation, but we've seen no concrete moves in this direction."
"Turkey has no capability for these out-of-area operations," Aktar said. "It will be extremely dangerous, costly, and deadly to go ahead with this military cooperation if more military forces are needed to sustain this deal with Tripoli."
As Turkey passed a resolution to begin sending troops and military aid to Libya, Libyan and Turkish media sources are reporting that Russia is sending additional mercenaries to beef up their efforts. Unnamed sources are informing that Russia is moving private military contractors working under Moran and Schit from Syria into Benghazi airport, with UAE and Egyptian support.
US government experts reportedly met with Libyan officials over the weekend, according to a statement issued by the US embassy in Tripoli, as reported in the Libyan press. The embassy convened a meeting of experts with representatives of the Tripoli-based Presidential Council to determine concrete steps to eliminate militia activity in the country. The embassy statement said the US appreciated the Presidential Council’s willingness to address these issues and take measures to stop the activity of and disband the violent groups.
"These talks come at a time when toxic foreign intervention threatens to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya and escalate the situation into a wider regional conflict." The statement read.
The US remains convinced that long term stability can only be achieved through a return to political negotiations and the establishment of a unified government. The embassy added that these efforts must serve as a “basis for future discussions among all Libyan parties… (in order to ) support UN led negotiations”.
Turkish President Erdogan and US President Trump spoke on the phone over the weekend to discuss Turkey’s decision to authorise a troop deployment to Libya, as well as developments in Syria and Iraq, according to Turkish media sources. The two leaders issued a statement “highlighting the significance of diplomacy in solving regional issues…. (and) agreed to boost cooperation for mutual gain in bilateral relations”. “Trump also pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya.”
Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which stands in opposition to the Tripoli-based GNA, unanimously voted against the GNA agreements with Turkey, including delineating maritime economic zones and requesting Turkish troops be deployed to Libya.
It is doubtful if the al-Sarraj administration in Tripoli will heed the parliamentary vote.
At an emergency meeting called to discuss Turkey’s decision to send troops to Libya, the Arab League called for efforts to “prevent foreign interference” in Libya. In a meeting of the permanent representatives in Cairo, the Arab League passed resolution Tuesday stressing the "necessity to prevent interference that could contribute to facilitating the arrival of foreign extremists in Libya".
The League representatives also expressed "serious concern over the military escalation further aggravating the situation in Libya and which threatens the security and stability of neighbouring countries and the entire region".
In response, the Tripoli-based GNA envoy to the Arab League, Saleh Shammakhi, described the Arab League decision as the “worst exploitation” of the agreement with Turkey, and called upon the organisation to review its “aggression” against the Tripoli government.
“The Arab League is applying a double standard policy where it did nothing when we [the GNA] called for an emergency meeting at the start of Haftar’s aggression,” Shammakhi said, and noted that the Arab League’s position could push the GNA to consider its relevance.
Shammakhi claimed the GNA faced “deliberate distortions” and attempts to “delegitimise it” and its maritime agreement with Turkey, and offered to send experts to any member country to explain or clarify the terms of the agreement and its accordance with international law.
The Middle East Eye is reporting Turkey has reached out to and is planning on sending several Syrian rebel groups as part of its troop deployment to Libya, including the Sultan Murad Division, the Suqour Al Sham Brigades and the Faylaq al Sham. Syrian opposition sources are saying that the Suqour al Sham brigades, which were founded to fight the Syrian government, have already accepted the offer and have begun to transfer their forces to Turkey ahead of deployment to Libya.
Faylaq al-Sham, a group with reported links to the Turkish government, is expected to head these efforts, as its members have a past partnership with some Libyan militias. When fighting broke out in 2011, Tripoli-based militias, now fighting with the GNA, sent arms and ammunition to Syrian rebels. In 2014, when fighting broke out in Libya, Faylaq al-Sham returned the favor, sending advisers to Tripoli.
The Syrian opposition heads denied they were sending fighters to Libya. But one source said that some had already begun arriving in country. Fighters from Syria are reportedly getting $300 for a signing bonus and can earn $2000 a month to fight in the Libyan conflict.
The reports about Syrian fighters have been scattered.
One analyst, Babak Taghvaee, wrote on his twitter that according to a former Turkish air force pilot, more than 250 “Jihadist” militia fighters from Syria had already landed in Tripoli. However, Libyan affairs analyst Arnaud Delalande said such claims are “pure gesture and rhetoric”.
One Libyan official told Bloomberg news that Turkey is looking to send ethnic Turkmen fighters from Syria, who had already fought alongside Turkey in northern Syria. If Turkey goes through with such a move, this would certainly further complicate the already complex situation on the ground in Libya.
Another defence researcher who spoke with Turkish officials confirmed the reports, and told the Independent that senior Turkish intelligence agents who managed Turkey’s Syria operations were now being redeployed to Libya, to liaison with the Syrian militias who will be on the ground. The analyst said this includes the Turkish backed Sham Legion, a group with Muslim Brotherhood ties.
The speaker of the Tobruk based House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, was in Cyprus on Saturday to meet with his Cypriot counterpart Demetris Syllouris over the rising tensions between Cyprus and Turkey, including Turkey’s maritime and defence pacts with the Tripoli-based GNA in Libya.
Saleh wanted Syllouris and Cyprus Foreign Minister Christodoulides to convey to the rest of the EU that Turkey’s involvement in Libya is a destabilising factor for the region, and that Libyans need to “decide their future for themselves”. Saleh’s visit to Cyprus was meant to pave the way for a closer relationship between Cyprus and the Tobruk government in Libya.
Other reports claimed that Saleh urged his counterpart to shift their recognition from the Tripoli government, which has lost its legitimacy, to the Tobruk government.