Egypt's el-Sissi warns Libyan city Sirte a 'red line'
Cairo - Egypt’s president Saturday warned that an attempt by Turkey-backed forces in Libya to attack the strategic city of Sirte would cross a “red line" and trigger a direct Egyptian military intervention into the conflict.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in televised comments, said that Egypt could intervene in Libya with the intention of protecting its western border with the oil-rich country, and to bring stability, including establishing conditions for a cease-fire, to Libya. He also said Egypt is ready to provide arms and training for Libyan tribes to “defend their country.”
El-Sissi warned that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base by forces loyal to the UN-supported but weak government in Tripoli would amount to crossing a “red line.”
He spoke while inspecting Egypt’s air force and commando units stationed in the Sidi Barrani airbase in the country’s western region along the border with Libya.
El-Sissi's strong comments come after Libyan fighters allied with the Tripoli-based government earlier this month advanced toward Sirte, the gateway to oil facilities in Libya’s south.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, and Muhammed Tahir Siyala, Foreign Minister of Libya's internationally-recognized government, speak at the airport, in Tripoli, Libya. File picture: Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Eastern-based forces under Hifter launched an offensive to try to take Tripoli in April last year. The chaos has steadily worsened as foreign backers have increasingly intervened, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Hifter’s forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war earlier this month after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. Turkish air support in the form of armed aerial drones in particular proved vital to turning the tide. Turkey has also sent Syrian militias to fight for the Tripoli government.
The withdrawal of Hifter's fighters was painted by his commanders as a tactical measure to give a UN-backed peace process a chance.
Libyan General Khalifa Hifter. File picture: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
But Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that Hifter's forces have lost the chance to engage in a political solution to the conflict because Hifter ignored previous calls for a peaceful solution.
“On the contrary, he increased his aggression,” Cavusoglu said in a televised news conference.
“He’s losing, he’s doomed to lose," he added. “It’s impossible for him to win. He had an opportunity for a political process. He lost that as well.”
Turkey, in addition to providing military support, signed a maritime deal in November with the Tripoli-based government that would give Ankara access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, despite the objections from Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. Turkey has said it will begin exploring for natural resources there within months.
Last weekend, a summit between Cavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which was to have focused on Libya, was postponed at the last minute.
Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey would work with Italy to create a lasting peace and political solution in Libya.