Italian attempts at Libya diplomacy end with mid-air diversion

Egypt, France, Cyprus and Greece have condemned maritime security arrangements between Turkey and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord

epa08112777 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during a press conference following a meeting to discuss the Libya situation, in Cairo, Egypt, 08 January 2020. According to reports, Egypt is hosting a meeting with Foreign Ministers of France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus to discuss the recent developments in Libya.  EPA/KARIM ABDELAZIZ
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Efforts by Italy to bring together the leaders of Libya’s warring factions in Rome were left in tatters after the flight carrying Fayez Al Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), was diverted on its journey to Rome.

Mr Al Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), had been due to meet separately with Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte in Rome.

However, according to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the GNA head dropped out of the meeting after he discovered the LNA commander was also in Rome.

Screen grabs from flight tracking websites showed that Mr Al Sarraj’s flight was rerouted after take-off from Brussels. An online manifest for the Libyan Airlines Airbus A320 carrying the GNA head does not show a final destination but Italian media reported he headed straight to Tripoli from the Belgian capital.

In Brussels, EU leaders warned the Tripoli-based prime minister against allowing Turkish troops into to Libya and agreeing to a natural gas deal to avoid escalating violence in the North African nation.

The EU also pressed Mr Al Sarraj for a ceasefire as the conflict between the rival eastern and western administrations intensifies, particularly around Tripoli.

Egypt on Wednesday hosted the foreign ministers of four European allies to review the situation in Libya, particularly in light of the deal reached between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Mr Al Sarraj.

Addressing a news conference, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Cyprus and Greece condemned maritime and security agreements signed last month by Turkey and the Tripoli government and declared that only negotiations, rather than the use of force, would bring about a settlement in Libya.

“There is no military solution for this problem,” declared Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Italy attended the meeting but did not sign the joint statement issued afterwards.

Egypt, which shares a porous desert border with Libya, backs Field Marshal Haftar, whose forces launched a campaign last April to defeat militias allied with the Tripoli government and capture the city. The LNA on Monday seized the coastal city of Sirte, pushing out armed factions allied with the militias supporting the GNA.

Wednesday’s meeting testified to Egypt’s intensifying efforts to forge an opposition alliance of Mediterranean nations against Turkey’s efforts to gain a foothold in Libya, which has been mired in violence and chaos since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The Egyptian effort is also designed to derail or block Ankara’s attempts to muscle its way into a scheme to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into an international energy hub.

Already, Turkey is believed to have facilitated the transfer to Libya of hundreds of Syrian militants to fight alongside militias allied with the GNA.

Turkey’s growing relations with the Tripoli government is a source of additional concern for Egypt and several of its Mediterranean allies.

The recent maritime agreement between Ankara and Tripoli, dismissed as illegal by Cairo, significantly expanded Turkey’s influence in North Africa. The move would infringe on plans by Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Israel to turn the East Mediterranean into a global energy centre after the discovery of massive reserves of natural gas there.

Turkey has been unhappy that it was left out of these plans and has been trying to force its way into the scheme. It has explored for gas off the shores of EU-member Cyprus.

Turkey has occupied a third of the Mediterranean island since 1974 when it invaded after a short-lived, Greek-inspired coup.