Thani Government Urges UN To Lift Arms Embargo on Libya

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Fighters from the Fajr Libya warm up next to a fire on February 18, 2015 at a mobile checkpoint at the western entrance of the Mediterranean city of Sirte. AFP/Mahmoud Turkia.

Published Thursday, February 19, 2015

The foreign minister of Libya’s internationally-recognized government urged the UN Security Council on Wednesday to lift an arms embargo to allow the country's military to fight jihadists, amid growing alarm over the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Mohammed al-Dairi made the appeal to the 15-member council after militants affiliated to ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptians, triggering worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

"Libya needs a decisive stance from the international community to help us build our national army's capacity and this would come through a lifting of the embargo on weapons," the foreign minister said.

Dairi stressed he was not seeking an international military intervention, but that there was no time to lose to equip the Libyan army to confront the emboldened extremists.

As Libya pressed for urgent military aid, UN envoy Bernardino Leon said political efforts to broker a deal on forming a unity government able to address the threat from extremist groups could soon yield results.

"I am hopeful that a political agreement can be reached soon. The differences between the parties are not insurmountable," Leon said.

Egypt was pushing for a UN resolution easing restrictions on weapons sales to Libya, but Western diplomats expressed reservations, saying a political deal must be the priority.

Egypt had earlier proposed a naval blockade to prevent arms from reaching the jihadists.

"While the political solution is an absolute necessity, it is not an alternative to militarily confronting terrorism," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the council on Tuesday.

Jordan presents resolution

Acting on behalf of Arab nations, Jordan circulated a draft resolution late Wednesday calling for an end to the arms embargo against Libya's "legitimate" government and directing a council committee to propose ways to cut off weapons deliveries to militias.

The draft resolution obtained by AFP "emphasizes the necessity to provide support and assistance to the legitimate authorities in Libya... particularly by providing the Libyan government with the necessary security assistance."

It also called on Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) militias controlling Tripoli to withdraw to allow the return of the internationally-recognized government to the capital.

Diplomats said negotiations on the draft text were scheduled for Friday but no date was set for a vote.

The UN embargo was imposed in 2011 when Libya descended into violence after the uprising against ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Western powers are wary of committing to an easing of the arms ban in Libya, which is still awash with weapons and where rival militias are battling for control of its cities and oil wealth.

A council diplomat said lifting the arms embargo would be tantamount to pouring fuel on the Libyan fire.

Libya has two rival governments and parliaments, one recognized by the international community and the other with ties to Islamists.

A US-led coalition is carrying out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, and the foreign ministers from Egypt and Libya lamented a lack of international strategy to address the ISIS threat in Libya.

Libya's neighbor Tunisia said it too opposed military intervention, instead calling for a political solution.

That echoed a statement on Tuesday by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain that an ongoing UN effort to get Libya's warring sides to agree on a unity government was the "best hope" for peace.

Libya has descended into chaos with the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani forced to flee to the country's east and militias in control of Tripoli and other main cities since August .

Some militias have pledged allegiance to ISIS, which this week released a video of the mass beheadings of 21 Egyptian.

The country's main militias, including the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya coalition that has declared a rival government in Tripoli and has been involved in the peace talks, have not linked up with ISIS jihadists.

But Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned of the threat of such an alliance.

"There is an evident risk of an alliance being forged between local groups and Daesh, and it is a situation that has to be monitored with maximum attention," Gentiloni said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The chaos in Libya has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of migrants attempting to travel across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Qatar-Egypt dispute over Libya

Meanwhile, Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt, state news agency QNA said late on Wednesday, following a dispute over the unilateral Egyptian military intervention in Libya.

The diplomatic row came just three months after a thaw in relations between the two countries.

Egyptian jets bombed sites in Libya on Monday hours after ISIS militants released a video showing the beheadings, drawing Cairo directly into the conflict across its border.

Qatar expressed reservations over the attack at a subsequent meeting of the Arab League, drawing the ire of Cairo.

QNA quoted an official foreign ministry source as saying: "Qatar recalled its ambassador in Cairo for consultations over a statement by the Egyptian envoy to the Arab League."

The row could revive a rift within the Western-allied and oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council, which peaked when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha last year over its support for Islamists.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in 2013 when the army deposed President Mohammed Mursi following mass protests against his one-year rule.

Qatari foreign ministry official Saad bin Ali al-Muhannadi said his country had expressed reservations at the Arab League over "unilateral military action in another member (state) in a way that could harm innocent civilians."

He also said Qatar had also expressed reservations over a request by Libya and Egypt to the United Nations Security Council to lift an arms embargo on Libya because it gave leverage to one party over the other before peace talks were concluded and a coalition government was formed.

On Thursday, Gulf Arab states voiced support for Qatar in its row with Egypt, which accused Doha of supporting "terrorism" during discussions about Cairo's air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani "rejects accusations by Egypt's permanent envoy at the Arab League that Qatar supports terrorism," a statement said.

Egypt in November heeded an appeal by Saudi Arabia to back an agreement among Gulf Arab states that ended the eight-month spat over Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been designated by several Arab countries as a terrorist organization.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya, in an interview with the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper published on Thursday, said Doha did not support the Muslim Brotherhood, adding that the rift that had divided Gulf Arab nations was history.

Attiya said that there were "differences of opinion, which is healthy, and not disputes" between Gulf Arab countries.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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