Gargash: Egypt's Libya proposal builds Arab momentum for peace

Cairo Declaration seeks to halt fighting and restart talks on country's future

MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 16: Upper Row, L-R: Henry Wooster (USA), Sabri Bachtobji (Tunesia), Quin Gang (China), Ahmed Abul Gheit (Arabian League), Smail Chergui (African Union), Michael Bogdanow (Russia), Anwar Gargash (UAE), James Cleverly (UK) - Lower Row. L-R: Luigi Di Maio (Italy), Sabri Boukadoum (Algeria), Jean-Claude Gakosso (Congo), Sameh Shoukry (Egypt), Stephanie Williams UN), Heiko Maas (Germany), Josep Borrell Fontelles (EU), Mevlut Cavusoglu (Turkey), Jean-Yves Le Drian (France), Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor (South Africa)gather for a group photo at the Libya conference taking place during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on February 16, 2020 in Munich, Germany. The conference follows the Berlin Libya conference in January that brought international leaders together to agree on measures towards peace in war-torn Libya. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)
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Egypt’s peace initative for Libya strengthens momentum from Arab states on securing a swift halt in fighting and a return to talks, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said on Monday.

Egypt’s proposal for a halt in fighting, called the Cairo Declaration, was announced by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Saturday night.

It calls for the withdrawal of "foreign mercenaries from all Libyan territory, dismantling militias and handing over their weaponry".

On Monday, Dr Gargash said the proposal "strengthens the Arab and international momentum for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the return to a political track".

The proposal seeks to end a more than year-long battle between the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar from the east, and militias who back the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Russia on Monday added its support to the "comprehensive" Cairo Declaration, saying it should be the main forum for long-overdue talks to decide the future of Libya.

“We hope that the authorities in Tripoli will promptly and with due attention take note of the peaceful call from Cairo and will respond to it in a constructive way,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Despite the Egyptian suggestion of a ceasefire from Monday, there was still heavy fighting with pro-GNA militias pushing their assault on LNA-held areas around Sirte.

The town was taken by the LNA in January but the GNA has made gains in recent days, pushing the eastern forces in areas of the west.

The LNA said it had been making tactical withdrawals from territory around Tripoli to give peace talks a chance.

Taking Sirte would open the gate for the GNA militias to press farther eastwards, towards vital oil installations, terminals and fields that were shut down since this year, cutting off Libya’s major source of income.

Despite international calls for a ceasefire, Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj urged the Tripoli fighters to “continue their path” towards Sirte, said Mohamed Gnono, a spokesman for the militias.

But the LNA military said its troops destroyed a military company that included Turkish-made armoured cars and tanks, along with a bus carrying Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries who have been aiding the Tripoli militias.

Two Sirte residents said shelling by Tripoli militias earlier on Monday killed at least eight civilians and wounded six in the town of Thalatheen, about 30 kilometres west of Sirte.

The Libyan Red Crescent in Sirte said the dead included a family of seven people.

GNA Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, said the government would take part in talks only after taking Sirte and the Jufra air base to the south.

The UN said there were reports of GNA militias looting areas of captured territory in the west of the country.

They took the town of Tarhouna last Thursday and Alasabaa, south of Tripoli.

"Reports of the discovery of a number of corpses at the hospital in Tarhouna are deeply disturbing," the UN mission to Libya said after the town was captured.

The UN demanded that the GNA hold an investigation.

"We have also received numerous reports of the looting and destruction of public and private property in Tarhouna and Alasabaa, which in some cases appear to be acts of retribution and revenge that risk further fraying Libya's social fabric."

The UN said it is encouraged by calls to restart the long-stalled peace talks.

Its mission said the fight over the capital “has proven, beyond any doubt, that any war among Libyans is a losing war".

It urged Libyan parties to “engage swiftly and constructively” in the talks, “accompanied by firm implementation of and respect for the recently renewed UN arms embargo on Libya".

It said 16,000 Libyans had been displaced by fighting in recent days.