Despite a recent Egyptian government ceasefire initiative in Libya, militias allied with the internationally recognized government in Tripoli have advanced to the east of the country. The armed groups that Tripolis had defended against the campaign of the enemy commander Chalifa Haftar are trying to take the coastal city of Sirte again.
At the weekend, Egypt proposed a ceasefire to begin this week. The breakaway General Haftar, supported by Egypt, accepted the proposal while the government rejected it. Interior Minister Fathi Baschagha said that the government would only take part in political negotiations after Sirte and the southern Jufra air base were captured.
Haftar is back on the defensive
Haftar's troops had captured Sirte in January. Reconquering the port city would help government militias advance further east. This is largely controlled by Haftar and is of strategic importance due to the oil fields and production facilities there. Prime Minister Fajis al-Sarradsch has called on Tripoli fighters to continue marching towards Sirte, a spokesman for the troops said.
Before the advance of government troops, several states in Egypt had praised attempts at mediation and had given their consent to an armistice. The federal government called the agreement a great step forward. A spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office called on the parties to the conflict to "switch from military to political logic". The United Arab Emirates, which, like Egypt, sided with Haftar, also welcomed the initiative, which the UN also approved.
Last week, the Tripoli militias had achieved success in conquering the city's main entry and exit routes. They also drove Haftar's troops from cities near the capital that had been under its occupation since April. Haftar's side confirmed their withdrawal, but called it a tactical measure to give the United Nations-backed peace process a chance. But effectively, Haftar's 14-month offensive on the state capital is stopped.
A ceasefire proposal could be a threat
Egyptian President Fattah al-Sisi, who brokered the ceasefire, stressed that his initiative was in line with the results of the Libya conference that took place in Berlin in January. The initiative envisages the formation of a Presidential Council, which will be elected under the leadership of the UN and remain in power for 18 months. A democratic election is to be prepared during this time.
Libya's current government is recognized by the UN, which dates back to an agreement negotiated under the UN auspices in 2015. However, it controls only a fraction of the country except for the capital, Tripoli, and is dependent on the help of partially independent militias. Most of the country is still controlled by Haftar, who the exile parliament appointed as army chief in 2014. The acts of war in Libya that began after the overthrow of long-term ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011 are also influenced from outside.
For example, the government in Tripoli has military support for Turkey, while Russia supports Haftar with its own mercenaries. The United States and European countries such as France and Great Britain had also supported the general in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group. Finally, the UN reported secret attempts by Western forces to block Turkey's arms supplies to the government, despite being recognized by the suspected countries of origin of the forces, unlike Haftar.
Well-armed armies like those in Turkey and Egypt in particular could, according to suspected observers, influence more in the future. Libya expert Wolfram Lacher of the Science and Politics Foundation recently spoke of a "humiliation" of Haftar by the Egyptian ceasefire proposal - however, this is also a possible warning against an intervention by the Egyptian Air Force in the conflict if the government militias are in favor of one decide further advance.