As the second round of the UN-backed 5+5 ceasefire talks were set to begin in Geneva today, the Tripoli-based GNA announced it was suspending its participation over the LNA's air strike on the port of Tripoli yesterday (Feb 18). "We are announcing the suspension of our participation in the military talks taking place in Geneva until firm positions are adopted against the aggressor and his violations" of the ceasefire, said a GNA press release, adding that "without a lasting ceasefire... negotiations make no sense. "
Video footage of thick black smoke rising from the area of the port spread on social media. The LNA said it had attacked a Turkish ship carrying military equipment, while the GNA maintained that Haftar was attacking the port in violation of the ceasefire. Turkish officials said there were no Turkish vessels in the area.
The National Oil Corporation said it had evacuated its tankers from the area after a missile struck just metres away "from a highly explosive liquefied petroleum gas tanker" nearby. NOC Chairman Mustaffa Sanalla added that "the city does not have operational fuel storage facilities" and that this attack will have immediate and negative consequences to vital infrastructure nearby.
The previous 5+5 ceasefire talks in Geneva just a week ago led to a "broad consensus" between the warring parties on "the urgency for Libyans to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity" and stop the influx of foreign fighters into the country.
UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame described the attack as a "big breach" of the already shaky and violated ceasefire brokered on January 12 by Turkish president Erdogan and Russian president Putin ahead of the Berlin talks. The UNSC resolution backed the ceasefire and embargo and the progress made at the first round led Salame to say there was "more hope" heading into the continuation of the talks.
Residents near the port expressed their concern that heavy fighting may renew, after a few week period of a lull, and that the airstrike on the port could signal the beginning of a new phase of escalation.