Libyan factions divided over Egyptian airstrikes

Published 21.02.2015 01:29

Rival Libyan factions and the international community expressed different statements regarding Egyptian airstrikes on the militants. While some support Egypt, others consider aerial strikes as an attack on national sovereignty

A video purporting to show the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages has been released by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). One of the militants in the video, speaking English, makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to 'conquer Rome.' After the video was released Egypt started bombing the militants. According to initial reports, the bombardment killed dozens of militants as well as civilians. Militants in Libya had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all laborers rounded up from the city of Sirte in December and January. The makers of the video identify themselves as the Tripoli Province. After the video was released, Egypt said it has launched airstrikes ISIS targets in Libya. The aerial strikes sparked a controversy among the warring and rival faction of Libya.

Omar al-Hassi, the head of Libya's Islamist-led "salvation" government in Tripoli, has condemned recent airstrikes by the Egyptian army in the eastern Darnah city. "I do not see a strong enough reason to strike Darnah," al-Hassi said during a televised speech Thursday night. "The trigger for these strikes was a fabricated tape broadcast on a shadowy website and it was clearly filmed with advanced cinematic abilities which Libyans, and even all Arabs, are incapable of producing," al-Hassi said. Al-Hassi also criticized Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for "seeking a military intervention in Libya." He also denounced a call by Egypt-which only recognizes rival Tobruk-based government-on the UN to lift a ban on international arms sales to Libya's "legitimate authorities," opening the door for arming the rival government. "Cairo's unwise and unbalanced stance is clear," al-Hassi said. "The calls for arming the Tobruk government will yield more death and bloodshed in Libya." Al-Hassi said the group which had claimed affiliation with the ISIL in Libya comprised relative of late ousted strongman Muammar Gaddhafi, backed up by security and intelligence agencies from "neighboring states." "This group had taken advantage of ordinary people in central Libya," al-Hassi said. Al-Hassi also urged Egyptians living in Libya to leave the country, citing his government's inability to protect them from possible attacks by "intelligence bodies." Al-Hassi also suspended Tripoli's participation in ongoing UN-backed peace talks for Libya's warring political camps. "The U.N. must first bring Egypt to account for violating the rights of the Libyan people."

The Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Libya on Thursday rejected the notion of foreign intervention. "Foreign intervention would have dire consequences for Libya and the entire region" the Brotherhood's Justice and Building Party said.

However, the internationally recognized Libyan government supported Egypt's aggression and asked the international community to establish a coalition to save Libya from the militants. The government also asked the U.N. to lift the weapon embargo.

Besides the Libyan factions, the international community was also divided. While Tunisia said it 'understood' Egypt's aggression but opposed a further military intervention, the Gulf countries expressed their support.

Two of the most powerful members of the U.N. Security Council are rejecting Libya's call to lift a U.N. arms embargo so it can defend itself against ISIS. U.S. and Britain are openly worried about allowing more weapons into a country that has two separate governments, multiple militant groups and a high risk of weapons falling into unwanted hands. Both countries, as permanent members of the 15-seat council, can use their veto to block any proposed action. "The problem is that there isn't a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said during a visit to Spain. "There isn't a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support." Libya first needs a government of national unity in place, along with a U.N. presence in the country, he said. "But simply pouring weapons into one faction or the other, which is essentially what has been proposed, is not to bring us to a resolution to the crisis in Libya, and is not going to make Europe safer, is going to make it more at risk," Hammond said.

Libya is split between the internationally recognized government based in Tobruk in the east and another government in Tripoli, backed by Islamist militias. The U.N. embargo has been in place since 2011, the year that long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown.

While the discussion over the Egyptian airstrikes continue, three car bombs ripped through the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah on Friday, killing 40 people and wounding 70, security officials and medics said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh said the bombs appeared to have been in retaliation for Egyptian air strikes on nearby Derna. Three bombs exploded on Friday at a petrol station, the local security headquarters and the town council headquarters in Qubbah, which is Saleh's hometown. "We are announcing seven days of mourning for the victims of Qubbah," Saleh told Al Arabiya television. "I think this operation was revenge for what happened in Derna." A security official said the car bombs were probably suicide attacks but no more details were immediately available.

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