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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Egypt Warns Forces Fighting for Libya's Tripoli Government to Stay Out of Sirte

By Edward Yeranian June 20, 2020

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warned Saturday that Cairo would not allow militias fighting for Libya's U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli to capture the coastal port town of Sirte or the al-Jufra airbase in central Libya.

Sissi's warning came as Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj met with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune amid diplomatic efforts to forestall a looming conflict over Sirte and oil installations farther east.

In a speech to Egypt's armed forces, el-Sissi insisted that Cairo would defend its security along a 1,200-kilometer common border with Libya, aided by friends and allies, including Libya's traditional tribal forces.

Call for cease-fire

He added that Egypt did not covet any Libyan territory and said its objective was to support security and stability inside Libya and prevent mercenaries and terrorists from entering Egypt. He called on forces from each of Libya's rival governments to observe a cease-fire and begin negotiations toward a political settlement.

At the same time Saturday, media loyal to eastern commander General Khalifa Haftar showed video of armored forces that they claimed were heading toward territory controlled by rivals west of Sirte.

Meanwhile, Sarraj made a one-day visit to neighboring Algeria to discuss a possible mediation effort by Tebboune. The Algerian president met with the head of the Libyan parliament, Aquelah Salah, an ally of Haftar, earlier in the week.

Sarraj vetoed an Egyptian proposal to hold an emergency session of the Arab League to discuss foreign intervention in Libya. Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Saturday that Turkey has now sent 15,000 Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya. VOA could not independently confirm the figure.

A Turkish delegation met with Sarraj and his government several days ago, reportedly discussing a multibillion-dollar trade deal. Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates, which support Haftar, are concerned about any oil drilling concessions granted by Sarraj to Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.

Russian mercenaries

The U.S., at the same time, has said it is concerned about the presence of several thousand Russian mercenaries and a number of Russian warplanes now based at Haftar's al-Jufra airbase.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches at the University of Paris, told VOA that "France has tried to make the case with Washington that allowing Turkish forces a major foothold in Libya is a strategic mistake."

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