Haftar tours Rome, Paris amid military stalemate - GulfToday

Haftar tours Rome, Paris amid military stalemate


A Libyan man distributes snacks and water to motorists to breaking their fast in the Martyrs Square of the capital Tripoli, on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who has launched a military offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, held surprise talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome on Thursday ahead of a visit to Paris next week, officials said.

Conte said he urged Haftar to call a ceasefire to his assault on the government of Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj, who also travelled to Rome and Paris for talks last week.

“It was a fairly long meeting, a lengthy exchange of information,” Conte told journalists. “I informed him of the government’s position. We want a ceasefire and we feel that the political path is the only solution.”

Conte said last week that he wanted to meet Haftar after his talks with Sarraj.

The Libyan military chief, whose forces control large swathes of the country’s east, will travel next week to Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, his office said.

“The goal will be to discuss the situation in Libya and the conditions for resuming a political dialogue... in conjunction with the UN and our partners,” an Elysee Palace official said.

France and Italy are the two lead European powers seeking to find a solution to years of instability, spreading extremism and a migrant crisis in Libya which fell into chaos after the Nato-backed toppling of dictator Muammer Qadhafi in 2011.

But the neighbours are seen by experts as competing for influence and the issue has caused tensions between the governments.

Sarraj, who is seen as being close to Rome, has accused France of supporting “dictator” Haftar’s campaign against his internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Paris has rejected the claims, saying it supports Sarraj but also considers Haftar a key player in rebuilding Libya after years of strife.

Haftar’s bid to unseat Sarraj and take control of the Libyan capital has reached a military and political impasse after more than a month of fighting.

After the initial advance, forces loyal to the GNA launched a counter-offensive that has led to a stalemate on the ground.

The fighting has killed at least 430 people and wounded over 2,000 while displacing 55,000 others, according to UN estimates.

The European Union on Monday called for all sides in the conflict to put down their arms and commit to UN talks, saying the offensive was a threat to international peace.

“The situation in Libya is very worrying because the roadmap proposed by the United Nations... has been jeopardised by both the move by Marshal Haftar and by the move, or non-move by Prime Minister Sarraj,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Peering through the gate of a home in the western suburbs of Libya’s war-torn capital, seven-year-old Chehab shyly looked on as children streamed down the nearby street. “I’ll just play by myself,” he muttered, holding a ball under one arm. “I don’t know anyone in this neighbourhood.” He is one of the more than 60,000 civilians who have fled their homes in Tripoli since early April, when forces loyal to Haftar began their push to take the capital.

While some have found refuge at shelters throughout the city, many more have instead turned to relatives and even mere acquaintances as Libyans band together to find homes for the displaced.

Chehab and his family arrived at his uncle’s home in Janzur in mid-April after fleeing the southern suburb of Ain Zara as it turned into a front-line battlefield. Nearly a month later, his 10-year-old sister Alia misses the comforts of home. “I want to go home and go back to school,” she sighed.

“The school closed again because of the war and I had to leave my friends, my room and my toys.”

Their father Abdelhafid would have liked to find a furnished apartment for the family to rent for the holy month of Ramadan, but it proved too expensive.

“I don’t know what I would have done if my brother hadn’t opened his door,” the high school geography teacher said.

“Our main concern is with civilians living near the front lines,” said Youness Rahoui, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tripoli. “Densely populated neighbourhoods are gradually becoming battlefields.”

Habiba left her home near the airport in a hurry after neighbours told her they were fleeing the area. For her, finding room with relatives or at a shelter were not options.


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