Analysis, Middle East

Proposed Libya ceasefire would empower Haftar

Truce would allow renegade military commander to consolidate position, bolster defenses

Mustapha Dalaa   | 08.05.2019
Proposed Libya ceasefire would empower Haftar

TRIPOLI

A cease-fire in Libya would likely serve the interests of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar following his failed campaign to capture Tripoli, the seat of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

In early April, Haftar, who commands forces loyal to a rival government based in eastern Libya, launched a wide-ranging campaign to take the capital.

After more than a month of sporadic fighting on Tripoli’s outskirts, however, Haftar's campaign has failed to achieve its primary objective.

Meanwhile, a handful of countries -- including France and Russia, both of which support Haftar -- are calling for a truce between the warring camps.

But the GNA has rejected the ceasefire calls, saying Haftar’s forces must first withdraw from all positions they have taken near the capital.

Haftar’s forces now face the specter of dwindling supplies and international pressure to end the campaign, while his critics have said he should be prosecuted for war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

Haftar’s supporters too, especially France, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, are facing mounting pressure to end their military and diplomatic support for the renegade commander.

In this context, a truce would likely work in Haftar's favor, as it would allow him to consolidate his positions outside Tripoli; bolster his defenses; and cut the strategic coastal road that links Tripoli to neighboring Tunisia.

Since Haftar's military campaign began, the GNA has lost a handful of critical areas, including the cities of Sabratah and Surman west of Tripoli.

Both cities are located on the coastal road, which remains a crucial supply line for the GNA.

Haftar’s forces have also managed to surround the city of Zuwara, located some 100 kilometers west of Tripoli, from the east and south. Zuwara is of considerable strategic importance as it controls the Ras Ajdir border crossing with Tunisia.

Haftar has also succeeded in taking the city of Garyan, located roughly 100 kilometers south of Tripoli, allowing his forces to cut the desert road linking Tripoli to the Dehiba Wazin crossing.

But the road linking Tripoli to the city of Misrata, located some 200 kilometers east of the capital, remains open, thus ensuring the GNA’s continued survival.

Given the circumstances, therefore, a ceasefire would only serve to weaken the GNA’s position -- that’s why it has rejected any truce before withdrawal to the east by Haftar’s forces.

What’s more, the GNA distrusts Haftar, who broke a promise to GNA leader Fayez al-Serraj -- who he met with in February -- to end Libya’s “transitional phase” by holding general elections.

Haftar, however, surprised everyone by launching his Tripoli campaign on April 4 -- only ten days before a scheduled UN-sponsored dialogue conference.

Libya has remained beset by turmoil since 2011, when long-serving leader Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a bloody NATO-backed uprising after four decades in power.

Since then, the oil-rich country has seen the emergence of two rival seats of power: one in eastern Libya, with which Haftar is affiliated, and another in Tripoli, which enjoys UN recognition.

* Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

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