Western Powers Distance Themselves from Egyptian Intervention in Libya

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A group of people hold banners and flags during a protest in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Amman on February 17, 2015, against killing of 21 Egyptians in Libya. Anadolu/Shadi Nsoor.

Published Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Western powers on Tuesday stressed the need for a political solution to the crisis in Libya, apparently distancing themselves from Egypt’s calls for military intervention in the North African state.

The recent beheading of 21 Egyptians by militants affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) demonstrated "once again the urgent need for a political solution to the conflict," a statement issued in the name of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said, according to an Italian version of the text released by the foreign ministry in Rome.

The governments condemned all acts of terrorism in Libya and said a UN-sponsored attempt to get the country's warring militias to a negotiating table with the aim of forming a government of national unity was the "best hope" for peace in the country.

"The international community is ready to fully support a national unity government to meet the current challenges faced by Libya."

They said UN envoy Bernardino Leon would be holding meetings in the coming days with parties in Libya to try and rally support for a unity government.

Those who did not take part would be excluding themselves from a political solution which has become an urgent necessity because of the “terrorist” threat, the statement said.

It added that anyone who failed to help save Libya from extremism and chaos would be held responsible by the Libyan people and the international community for their actions.

The statement came ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Libya on Wednesday.

Egypt, which has already carried out retaliatory airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya over the murders of its nationals, has asked the Council to provide a mandate for international intervention in its neighbor.

On Wednesday, Egypt called on the United Nations to lift an arms embargo on Libya as Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told fellow diplomats that Libya's internationally-recognized government needed to be better armed to take on Islamist militias who have seized large parts of the country.

Italy, the European country most exposed to the overspill from the chaos in Libya, raised speculation about possible Western intervention last week when two senior ministers made noises about being "ready to fight" and commit troops to combat the terror threat.

But Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has since quashed such talk, insisting that any intervention would only come after all political and diplomatic avenues are exhausted and with full UN authorization.

On Wednesday, Italy issued its strongest warning yet about the danger of ISIS establishing a stronghold in Libya that would threaten Europe's security and the stability of neighboring states.

Addressing parliament, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there was an "evident risk" of ISIS fighters in Libya forging an alliance with local militias or criminal gangs currently engaged in a multi-sided battle for control of the country.

He also warned that time was running out for the troubled North African state, and called for a "change of pace" in the international community's efforts to restore stability to a country that has descended into chaos.

Italy has been urging its allies for months to take a closer interest in events in Libya. The breakdown of government in the former Italian colony has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of African and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees arriving in Italy by sea after transiting through Libya.

Egypt expats back from Libya

Meanwhile, the number of Egyptian expatriates in Libya who returned home reached 555, an Egyptian official said on Tuesday.

"Over the past 24 hours, 555 Egyptians in Libya returned to Egypt through the Salloum border crossing," crossing director Mohammed Metwalli was quoted as saying by Egypt's official news agency.

"The situation is stable, especially in Libya's eastern region near the border with Egypt," Metwalli said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, meanwhile, voiced his appreciation for his Tunisian counterpart Taieb Baccouche for helping Egyptian expats in western Libya return home via Tunisia.

Last month, the Egyptian government — citing security concerns — banned citizens from traveling to Libya via Libyan Airlines. It has also curbed the Libyans planes’ access to Egypt's airspace.

On Tuesday, a Libyan commercial plane bound for Istanbul was forced to return to Tripoli after
Egypt banned overflying its airspace, Tripoli airport and Libyan Airlines said.

Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Hisam Kamal denied permission had been withheld, state newspaper al-Ahram said.

"No Libyan airline asked for an overfly permission," he told the paper.

Libyan Airlines and Tripoli's Mitiga airport said on their websites the plane took off for Istanbul but returned after Egypt informed the carrier that it was not allowed to enter Egyptian airspace.

The website of Tobruk airport, in eastern Libya, said all flights between Egypt and Libya had stopped.

Such a shutdown would push Libya, battling to contain a violent power struggle, further into isolation as Turkey was one of last countries where Libyan airlines were flying to. Foreign carriers have left the oil producer.

Libyan airlines flying to Turkey need to cross Egyptian airspace to avoid Cyprus as the European Union has imposed an overfly ban for security reasons.

Morocco earlier said it had suspended all flights between Moroccan cities and Libya for security concerns.

Foreign airlines stopped flying to Libya last July when Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) attacked a rival group controlling Tripoli's main airport, taking control of the capital after a months of fighting. The airport and some 20 planes were damaged during the fighting.

Turkish Airlines briefly returned last year to fly to Misrata, east of Tripoli. But it halted flights last month due to repeated attacks on the airport, part of the struggle between rival factions that have fought for power since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Gaddafi's one-man rule, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Amid the chaos, a number of Islamist militant groups have been active in Libya. A few have declared ties to ISIS and claimed high-profile attacks over recent weeks in what appears to be an intensifying campaign.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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