Militias loyal to Libyan putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar on Sunday dismissed a cease-fire proposal by the United Nations-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) as a “deception,” claiming that the GNA was preparing to attack the strategic city of Sirte.
Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, told a televised news conference that Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj's proposal “represents nothing but throwing dust in eyes and deceiving the local and international public.”
"The initiative that Sarraj signed is for media marketing," Mosmari said during a briefing for journalists. "There is a military buildup and the transfer of equipment to target our forces in Sirte."
"If Sarraj wanted a cease-fire, he would have drawn his forces back, not advanced toward our units in Sirte," Mosmari said.
He also said Haftar’s forces are prepared to respond to any attempt to attack their bases in Sirte and Jufra, currently under their control.
Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country then split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based GNA, on Friday announced a cease-fire and called for demilitarizing Sirte and the nearby Jufra area, which would mean the withdrawal of Haftar’s forces.
The proposal, which came after international pressure had been applied, was seen as a breakthrough amid rising fears of a new escalation in the chaotic proxy war, as rival sides mobilize for a battle over Sirte.
Haftar’s refusal, however, could thwart international efforts to secure a lasting cease-fire and open the door for another destructive bout of fighting over Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oil export terminals controlled by Haftar’s forces.
Aguila Saleh Issa, the speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives and a Haftar ally, said Friday he supported the demilitarization of Sirte but did not mention Jufra. He called for Sirte to be a temporary seat of the new government.
Both Saraj and Issa said they want an end to an oil blockade imposed by Haftar’s camp since earlier this year, which has choked the Tripoli government. They also called for oil revenues, the country’s main source of revenue, to flow into the bank account of the National Oil Corporation outside Libya.
The chaos in Libya has worsened in recent months as foreign backers increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia. On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar have played a pivotal role in supporting the legitimate Libyan government and defending Tripoli against the militia.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April 2019, but his campaign collapsed in June when GNA-allied forces, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his militia from the outskirts of the city and other western towns.
UAE sends mercenaries
Amid Haftar's rejection of new cease-fire efforts, Adil al-Haseni, a commander loyal to the Yemeni government in their fight against the Houthi rebels, said Sunday that the UAE sent 40 Yemeni mercenaries to Libya in support of the Russian Wagner Group.
Foreign mercenaries and arms have poured into Libya since Haftar launched his offensive, with Russia and the UAE his top suppliers. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) on July 24 accused Russia of “playing an unhelpful role in Libya by delivering supplies and equipment to the Wagner Group."
Haseni said in his social media accounts that the mercenaries were sent to Sirte to fight against GNA forces and paid $1,300 per month.
Yemen is divided between Houthi rebels in the north and an internationally recognized government in the south. Both sides have been at war since the Iran-backed Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital of Sanaa in late 2014, forcing the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states formed a coalition to take on the rebels in what they said was an effort to stop Iran’s growing sway in Yemen, which is at the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula overlooking the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, with more than 3 million people internally displaced and two-thirds of the population relying on food aid for survival.