Egyptian president says Libyan city Sirte a 'red line'
CAIRO (AP) - Egypt's President warned on Saturday that an attempt by the Turkish-backed Armed Forces in Libya to attack the strategic city of Sirte would cross a "red line" and trigger direct Egyptian military intervention in the conflict.
Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said on television commentaries that Egypt could intervene in neighboring Libya to protect its western border with the oil-rich country and to give Libya stability, including creating conditions for an armistice.
El-Sissi warned that any attack on Sirte or Jufra internal airport by forces loyal to the US-backed but weak government in Tripoli would mean crossing a "red line".
"Let us stop on this (current) front line and start negotiations to find a political solution to the Libyan crisis," he said.
Calls that asked a spokesman for the Tripoli-based government to comment remained unanswered. However, Mohammed Ammry Zayed, a member of the Presidential Council, an advisory body to the government backed by the United States, said they rejected el-Sissi's comments as "continuity of the war against the Libyan people."
El-Sissi spoke when he inspected the Egyptian Air Force and Command Units stationed at Sidi Barrani Air Force Base in the west of the country along the porous desert border with Libya.
He said Egypt was ready to provide arms and training to Libyan tribes to "defend their country." He told tribal representatives who attended his speech that if Egypt intervened, its forces with tribal leaders would advance on the avant-garde.
El-Sissi's strong comments come after Libyan militants who allied with the Tripoli-based government earlier this month approached Sirte, a move that ignored an Egyptian initiative supported by the East Libyan camp to end the fight and start peace talks.
The capture of Sirte would open the door to the Tripoli Allied militias to advance further east and possibly take control of the facilities, terminals and oil fields that the Hifter-allied tribes closed earlier this year, cutting off Libya's main source of income has been.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a civil war overthrew long-time dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since been divided between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by armed groups and foreign governments.
The Hifter forces stationed in the east launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture Tripoli. The chaos has steadily worsened as foreign supporters intervened increasingly at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year, despite promises to the contrary.
Hifter's armed forces are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while Tripoli-led militias are supported by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war earlier this month after recapturing the capital's airport, all of the city's main entry and exit points, and a number of major cities near Tripoli. In particular, Turkish air support in the form of armed air drones proved to be decisive for the turn. Turkey has also sent Syrian militias to fight for the Tripoli government.
The retreat of Hifters fighters was painted by his commanders as a tactical measure to give a chance to a United States-backed peace process.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that Hifter's forces have lost the chance to find a political solution to the conflict because Hifter ignored previous calls for a peaceful solution.
"On the contrary, he has increased his aggression," said Cavusoglu in a televised press conference.
"He's losing, he's doomed to lose," he added. "It is impossible for him to win. He had the opportunity for a political process. He also lost it."
In addition to military support, Turkey signed a maritime agreement with the Tripoli-based government in November that would give Ankara access to an economic zone over the Mediterranean despite the objections of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. Turkey has announced that it will search for natural resources there within a few months.
Last weekend, a last minute summit between Cavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which was to focus on Libya, was postponed.
Wilks reported from Ankara, Turkey.
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