France, Germany and Italy threaten sanctions over Libya weapons embargo

Warning from European nations comes as eastern and western factions face off in central Libya

epa08553233 German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) at the start of the second day of an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, 18 July 2020. European Union nations leaders meet face-to-face for the first time since February to discuss plans responding to coronavirus crisis and new long-term EU budget at the special European Council on 17 and 18 July.

France, Germany and Italy have said they are ready to use sanctions to enforce Libya’s long-flouted weapons embargo.

The leaders of the three European nations met on the sidelines of negotiations over an unprecedented €750 billion (Dh3.147 trillion/$856.88bn) EU bailout fund to discuss deteriorating conditions in Libya.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron urged warring factions in Libya and their foreign supporters to immediately de-escalate the conflict.

“We also urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council,” the three leaders said.

“We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air."

Libya’s eastern and western factions faced off around Sirte in central Libya.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 08, 2019, fighters from a Misrata armed group loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) prepare their ammunition before heading to the frontline as battles against Forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, in Tripoli The US charged on July 16, 2020, that the EU's Operation Irini to enforce a UN embargo on sending weapons to war-torn Libya lacked seriousness, sharing Turkey's criticism that the effort is biased. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA

In recent months, violence has escalated in the country after an intervention by Turkey to bolster the Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli.

After victories against the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, GNA forces are poised on the outskirts of Sirte.

The strategic town and Jufra to the south are the gateway to the oil crescent and ports and oil terminals to the east.

The eastern strip of the Gulf of Sirte holds four of Libya’s oil terminals through which more than 50 per cent of the country's crude exports leave.

In the last 24 hours, the GNA has pressed its forces closer to Sirte.

A column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte, witnesses and GNA commanders told Reuters.

Europe has found itself increasingly sidelined in Libya by Turkey and Russia.

In January, Germany tried to seize the initiative by hosting a summit in Berlin in which world powers pledged to abide by a UN weapons embargo imposed on Libya since the 2011 Nato-backed intervention.

But in the months after, violence has increased in Libya and the country is more awash with weapons than ever.

Egypt’s warning that it would intervene in the conflict to support eastern forces if the Turkish-backed GNA backed encroached on Sirte, threatened to mark a new round of escalation and violence.