Libyan and foreign forces mobilise at Sirte, Arab ministers urge calm
KAIRO / TUNIS (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers said Tuesday they wanted to start a new battle in Libya, where the warring parties are mobilizing near the main oil region as their foreign supporters threaten to escalate.
"Libya is undergoing a dangerous turn in the course of its conflict," said Arab League General Secretary Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a statement.
Egypt has said that its army can intervene directly in Libya, and France has said it will not tolerate Turkish participation there.
Libya's front shifted quickly when Ankara's support to the internationally recognized National Agreement (GNA) government helped drive the eastbound Libyan National Army (LNA) out of Tripoli and the northwest.
The LNA, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt, has fallen back to Sirte on the central Mediterranean coast, where air strikes stopped the GNA advance.
Both sides are now preparing to fight Sirte. An LNA source said their commander, Khalifa Haftar, had strengthened there.
A senior Turkish official, Yasin Aktay, said Monday that the GNA is preparing for the reconquest and that the Egyptian leadership lacks "the power or the courage" to stop it.
The fighting cost civilians who faced houses, looting, and arson on their way east.
The LNA's withdrawal to Sirte last month was a blow to Haftar, whose goal of violently uniting Libya after years of chaos and division depended on the offensive he launched to conquer Tripoli in April 2019.
Any further progress by the GNA would give it the opportunity to regain control over Libya's "Oil Crescent", the region where most of the OPEC member's energy is produced and exported.
His military success in recent weeks has depended in part on the support of Turkish drones targeting LNA supply lines and troop formations.
Last month the United States said Russia had flown fighter jets to an LNA base and last week said they were now operating near Sirte.
However, diplomats say a new fight for the city - the western gateway to Libya's main oil terminals - could still be avoided, especially if Turkey and Russia can reach an agreement.
Russia said on Tuesday that it wanted a ceasefire in Libya and last month denied a United Nations report that included up to 1,200 mercenaries fighting in the country.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo and Angus McDowall in Tunis; editing by Angus MacSwan)
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