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Egypt reduces support to Libya's Haftar due to coronavirus woes

Egypt and its allies the UAE and Saudi Arabia are key backers of Haftar [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2020

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Rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar has lost multiple towns to government forces this month as Egypt and France reportedly withdraw support.
Egypt has warned its Gulf allies that it might be forced to pull vital military support for rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar due to the coronavirus pandemic in the country, Egyptian sources said.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has suffered  losses in recent days with forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) reclaim two key cities.

Compounding those losses is a reduction in support from one of Haftar's main backers, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in an apparent bid to lure fresh Gulf aid to Cairo, sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.

Egypt has warned its allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both backers of Haftar, that its deteriorating economic situation under the coronavirus crisis will make it hard to keep facilitating military support to the Libyan strongman.

"Perhaps [Egypt] sees lifting urgent support for Haftar at the present time as a means of pressuring its Gulf allies to support the Egyptian economy with dollar deposits," the sources said. 

The Libyan general, who launched his so-far unsuccessful offensive to seize the capital Tripoli last year, has also been weakened as France withdrew support in favour of spending its funds on the coronavirus battle at home, the sources added.

While France maintains public backing for the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli, Paris has been routinely accused of providing weapons, training and assistance to Haftar's forces.

Egypt has received more than one distress call from Haftar - who has recently started to lose territory - requesting assistance with airstrikes, according to the sources.

The calls went ignored not only due to Cairo's preoccupation with the coronavirus crisis but also due an ongoing row with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam project.

Cairo has begrudged Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for not giving it sufficient backing in the dam negotiations, the sources said.

International community urges Libya ceasefire

Both the United Nations and the Libya INGO Forum, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations operating in the country, have called for an urgent ceasefire to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

But those calls have been ignored as both parties opt to continue hostilities despite facing a rising number of cases with a poorly equipped healthcare system.

The GNA launched counter-attacks against Haftar's militia positions after his fighters rained rockets on the capital of Tripoli early Tuesday.

GNA military spokesperson Mohammed Kanunu issued a statement saying that Haftar positions were struck after a ferocious assault on the capital by the rebel militias.

Earlier this month airstrikes by government forces on Al-Wataya airbase destroyed three of Haftar's Su-22 fighter jets and several heavy weapons and facilities.

In total the GNA recaptured seven towns and two cities from Haftar's forces, Sabratha and Surman included.

Al-Watiya was captured by Haftar in 2014 and used as one of the headquarters for his operations in western Libya.

Surman and Sabratha lie respectively 60 and 70 kilometres (40 and 45 miles) west of Tripoli, around half-way to the Tunisian border, and their loss is a major blow to Haftar's forces.

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