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Libya's Tobruk government urges Egypt to send troops if Sirte attacked

Egypt backs rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 June, 2020

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The Tobruk-based parliament linked to rogue general Khalifa Haftar has called for Egyptian support against the forces of the UN-backed government.
The speaker of Libya's Tobruk-based eastern parliament urged Egypt on Wednesday to make good on its threat to send troops to fight rival, UN-backed western Libyan forces in case of their attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the Egyptian state news agency reported.

Libya has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. 

Eastern-based forces under rogue general Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture the capital, Tripoli, from the UN-supported government there.

Haftar's forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied forces are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.

After sweeping across much of the country, making their way deep into the west and fighting in the suburbs of the Libyan capital, Haftar's forces were forced to retreat from most areas they captured in their offensive, after Tripoli-based fighters, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand in the war earlier this month.

The Tripoli forces retook the capital's airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns nearby. They threatened also to retake Sirte, the birthplace of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi who was ousted and killed in 2011.

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Taking Sirte could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar had seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast, or the inland Jufra air base by the Tripoli forces would amount to crossing a "red line". He said Egypt could intervene militarily to protect its western border with the oil-rich country. 

The Tripoli-based government said it considered el-Sissi's comments a "declaration of war", while authorities in the east welcomed his support.

Aguila Saleh, speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, was quoted by Egypt's MENA news agency as saying that an Egyptian intervention in Libya would be "legitimate... if the terrorist and armed militias crossed the red line" determined by Sisi.

"The Libyan people are officially asking for Egypt to interfere with military forces if the necessities of maintaining Libyan national security and Egyptian national security require this," Saleh was quoted as saying.

Sisi's threat prompted Italy, Germany and the United States to push for a ceasefire, fearing an even wider war.

Arab League foreign ministers also warned against a "continuation of military action that alters existing front lines" in Libya.

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