Arab League calls for de-escalation in Libya and withdrawal of mercenaries

Foreign ministers pass resolution backing peace but Qatar, Tunisia and Somalia express reservations

A handout picture provided by the Arab League on June 23, 2020, shows Arab League Chief Ahmed Abul Gheit chairing an urgent virtual foreign ministers meeting on Libya following Egypt's request, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the Egyptian capital Cairo.  -  === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / ARAB LEAGUE" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
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The Arab League has sought to reduce tension in Libya, throwing its weight behind Egyptian plans for a ceasefire and a road map to peace.

In a video conference on Tuesday, League foreign ministers passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and rejected “all illegitimate foreign interference” in Libya.

The resolution also expressed its support for Egyptian proposals, announced on June 6, to end the conflict.

They included a return to UN-sponsored talks and the departure of foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya, a reference to Turkey and the thousands of Syrian fighters it sent.

“A political settlement among all Libyans, regardless of their affiliations, is the only solution to restore stability and security, and the elimination of terrorism,” the resolution said.

“The council expressed its extreme concern that the foreign military escalation worsens the existing crisis in Libya and poses a threat to the security and stability of the entire region, including the Mediterranean.”

The text of Tuesday’s resolution said Qatar, Tunisia and Somalia had reservations about parts of it.

Egypt's calls for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and a return to peace talks was backed by Gulf states including the UAE, and welcomed by European nations and the US.

But after Cairo’s peace plan was rejected by the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and its Turkish backers, Egypt said it could intervene in Libya to protect its western border.

Ankara has turned the tide of Libya’s civil war with air support and thousands of mercenaries to end a year-long offensive on Tripoli by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army.

On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi told members of his air force and special forces near the Libyan border that they should be ready for combat missions outside their country if needed.

Mr El Sisi said an attack by GNA forces on the coastal city of Sirte and central Al Jufra was a “red line” for Egypt’s security.

For years, Cairo complained about militant groups in Libya, saying they posed a threat to Egyptian national security.

Libya has been mired in violence since a 2011 uprising that removed and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Egypt blames militants in Libya for attacks against Cairo's security forces and minority Christians in recent years.

It says weapons smuggled across the countries’ desert border since 2011 have fuelled an insurgency by militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

“Egypt has long warned against the danger of terrorism in Libya,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at Tuesday’s Arab League meeting.

“Egypt does not and will not tolerate terrorism and its backers, and will not hesitate to take measures to prevent Libya from falling prey to terrorist groups and armed militias.”

Tension between Egypt and Turkey are also ideological.

The nations have been at odds since 2013, when Mr El Sisi, who was Egypt's defence minister at the time, led a military uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, who had Ankara’s support.

Cairo has since accused Turkey of supporting armed groups across the region.

On Monday, France said it would not tolerate Turkish involvement in Libya.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who met Tunisian leader Kais Saied in Paris, said Turkey was playing a “dangerous game” in Libya and was “in breach of all its commitments” to the country.

Mr Macron accused Ankara of disregarding Libya’s arms embargo, to which it recommitted in January at a conference in Berlin.

He said Mr El Sisi’s security concerns were legitimate.

On Tuesday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry accused France of backing Field Marshal Haftar’s forces. Paris insists it is neutral.

The counter-offensive in western Libya has forced US re-engagement in the country and Washington accused Russia of involvement.

On Tuesday, the US called for de-escalation in Libya and warned of “the dangers posed” by Russian-sponsored Wagner mercenary operations in Libya.

Russia has repeatedly denied the presence of the mercenary group in Libya.

On Monday, the UN’s International Follow-up Committee on Libya, co-chaired by the Arab League, welcomed talks that sought to build on the Berlin conference.

The committee repeated its concerns over human rights breaches in Libya and the flouting of its weapons embargo, and called for the withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries and military forces.

Figures from the UN refugee agency show the number of migrants who arrived in Italy in the past two weeks, by far most of whom come from Libya across the Mediterranean, has almost doubled compared with the same period last year.

In the first four months of this year, the numbers were up on 2019, with almost 25 per cent of the arrivals in Italy being children.