European Union urges humanitarian truce in Libya as Ramadan begins

Conflict has surged in recent weeks and the coronavirus has spread

A fighter with Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) fires rockets from a position near the town of Garabulli toward the city of Tarhuna, southwest of the capital Tripoli, held by the forces of the Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, on April 19, 2020.   / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA

Major European powers called for a humanitarian truce in Libya and a return to peace talks on Saturday.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy, and senior European Union officials echoed similar calls from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his acting special envoy to Libya.

"The conflict continues unabated and developments during the latest weeks have increased concerns, in particular over the situation among the long-suffering Libyan population," a European statement said.

"We call on all the Libyan actors to get inspired by the spirit of holy Ramadan... and unite their efforts to face the common enemy, which the current pandemic risks represent, in the interest of the whole country," it added.

Libya has recorded at least 61 positive coronavirus cases and two deaths, although the true figure is likely to be far higher. There are widespread fears the country's ailing heath sector would be unable to cope with an influx of seriously ill coronavirus patients, especially at a time of civil war.

Renewed talks towards a "genuine ceasefire" and a "political solution" to the conflict are needed, the European statement said.

Last April, forces loyal to eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital, Tripoli, in the west of the country, which is nominally under the control of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Thousands of civilians and fighters have been killed and at least 150,000 people displaced by the conflict.

The field marshal has been able to draw on the support of a number of countries diplomatically and militarily, and has bolstered his forces with Russian mercenaries.

The GNA has been backed by Turkey and has recruited thousands of Syrian rebel fighters.

On Saturday morning, the field marshal's representative accused Turkey and the GNA of attacking civilians in Tarhouna, a town to the south of Tripoli that has been a staging post for his forces.

World leaders met in Berlin in January to set the basis for what they hoped was another chance for a peace process but little has been achieved since then.

There have also been talks between high-ranking military commanders from both sides in Geneva that have failed to make progress.

UN special envoy Ghassan Salame, who had been trying to bring rival armed, political and financial factions to the table, quit last month, citing health problems.

Violence in Libya has surged in the past few weeks, with fierce fighting on several fronts.The GNA seized a number of coastal towns to the west of Tripoli from the field marshal's Libyan National Army.

In a speech earlier this week, Field Marshal Haftar accused the GNA of flooding Libya “with mercenaries in an attempt to fight our army".

He added: “Their most serious act of treason was when they asked Turkey to invade and occupy Libya, along with the extremist militias in Tripoli.”

The EU has launched a new naval and air mission in the eastern Mediterranean to stop more arms reach warring factions in Libya