Egypt's Sisi meets Libyan general Khalifa Haftar in Cairo

The leaders met at the presidential palace in the Egyptian capital 'to discuss the latest developments in Libya'

This handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on April 14, 2019, shows Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel (R) meeting Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar (L) at the Ittihadia presidential Palace in the capital Cairo.  Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Sunday with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar whose forces are fighting for control of the capital Tripoli, state media reported. Sisi has been an ardent supporter of Haftar's forces, which control swathes of eastern Libya and launched an offensive on April 4 to take the capital. / AFP / Egyptian Presidency / -
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Libya’s Khalifa Haftar was in Egypt yesterday on a previously unannounced visit, taking time out from his Libyan National Army’s march on the Libyan capital to hold talks with his Egyptian sponsor, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

Egypt's presidential palace did not release details on Field Marshal Haftar's talks with Mr El Sisi. According to ­Egyptian state newspaper Al Ahram, they were "discussing the ­latest developments in Libya".

Images released by the palace showed Mr El Sisi flanked by Field Marshal Haftar and the head of Egypt’s intelligence, Abbas Kamel, in the reception hall of the presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

Egypt has supported Gen Haftar's drive against militants in the east and south of its western neighbour, providing funding and arms to his Libya National Army.

Gen Haftar is widely thought to have modelled his muscular leadership style on Egypt’s Sisi, himself an army general turned president whose rule is defined by his opposition to and zero tolerance towards political Islam.

Egypt has in the past blamed Libyan-based militants for a series of cross-border attacks against its security forces and minority Christians traveling to remote desert monasteries.

It is not clear whether Gen Haftar's surprise march on Tripoli was launched with the prior knowledge or the approval of the Egyptians. Egypt has said that it did not think a military solution to Libya's divisions was viable. Sunday's statement on Mr Sisi's talks with Gen Haftar appeared to repeat Cairo's longstanding stance on Libya, but the context in which it was issued left open the question of whether Cairo is sympathetic to the rationale behind the Libyan commander's decision to march on Tripoli, home to a UN-backed government.

Analysts believe the campaign on Tripoli could potentially reignite large-scale fighting among the country's rival powers and undermine international efforts to reunite the fractured North African nation. They say it could also give militant groups based in Libya a cause or a motive to unite their ranks in a potentially ruinous fight against the LNA.

So far, the LNA and its leadership have ignored international calls to halt their battle against fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al Sarraj in Tripoli.

Since the overthrow and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been ruled by rival administrations in the east and west of the vast, oil-rich country. Moreover, militias, mostly Islamist, have held sway over large regions, particularly in the west and south of the country.

Gen Haftar frames his march on Tripoli as part of his fight against militants and to restore law and order in Libya, goals that are, at least in theory, in line with the policies on Libya embraced by Egypt and Gen Haftar's west European allies.

As well as fighting on the ground, the two sides have launched daily air raids and accuse each other of targeting civilians.

Since April 4, when Gen Haftar launched his offensive, more than 121 people have been killed in Tripoli and a further 561 wounded, according to the World Health Organisation.

Medical personnel have been targeted in the clashes, with three medical workers killed and eight ambulances damaged since fighting began, according to the UN.

The World Health Organisation tweeted that it “strongly condemns repeated attacks on health care workers, vehicles.”

Despite the risk, the WHO said it was sending more medical supplies and health staff to Libya to cope with an anticipated increase in casualties.

More than 13,500 people had been displaced by the clashes, while more than 900 residents are living in shelters, according to the UN's office for humanitarian affairs, or OCHA.

The UN said on Sunday that a school was bombed in Ain Zara southwest of Tripoli, without saying who was responsible. Both sides have carried out airstrikes on the town, and a spokesman for the Libya National Army said it has stepped up strikes on its rivals in the past two days.

“The humanitarian community repeats its warning that continuing to attack medical and civilian facilities is a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” OCHA said in a statement.