Egypt’s president meets Libyan commander Haftar in Cairo

Haftar in Cairo
Haftar in Cairo

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday met in Cairo with Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based Libyan forces, who is under international pressure to halt an advance on the capital Tripoli.

Egypt has close ties with Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA)controls the east and swept through the mainly desert south earlier this yearbefore moving to Tripoli ten days ago in a major escalation of conflict.

His move is the latest in a cycle of conflict and anarchy since the 2011toppling of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar has projected himself as the scourge of Islamist militants and ofthe militias that grew powerful after the uprising. His rivals say he hasfuelled conflict and risks returning Libya to authoritarian rule.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates publicly support U.N.-led peaceefforts in Libya, while being seen as Haftar's closest regional allies. Sisi, aformer army chief, has led a far-reaching crackdown on Islamists with Egypt andhas blamed Libya-based militants for some cross-border attacks

A statement from Sisi's office did not mention Haftar's offensivedirectly but "confirmed Egypt's support for efforts to combat terrorismand extremist groups and militias in order to achieve security and stabilityfor the Libyan citizen".

The presidency released photos showing Haftar, dressed in a blue suit,sitting with Sisi and his head of intelligence Abbas Kamel.

Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi's army who later turned against him,had long talked of a move on Tripoli, in Libya's west, where an internationally-recognisedgovernment sits.

His campaign has disrupted efforts by the United Nations to bring rivaleastern and western administrations to the negotiating table to plan anelection and end the turmoil.

Sunday was the day the United Nations had hoped to hold a nationalconference in the southwestern town of Ghadames.

"Our position will not change," U.N. envoy Ghassan Salametweeted. "You've learned and tasted war. No matter how obstinate onebecomes, there is no solution except a political one."

Surprise push for Tripoli

As well as thwarting the U.N. plan, the flare-up threatens to disruptoil supplies, boost migration to Europe, let Islamist militants exploit thechaos, and worsen Libyans' suffering.

The fighting has killed 121 people, mainly fighters, and wounded another561, according to U.N. tallies. Some 13,600 people have fled their homes.

Fighting in recent days has been taking place on the outskirts ofTripoli as LNA forces have been bogged down by groups aligned with theGovernment of National Accord (GNA).

The front lines were mostly calm on Sunday morning but military sourcessaid in the afternoon that an eastern Libyan warplane crashed in southernTripoli. No further details were available.

The 75-year-old Haftar's push for Tripoli took many by surprise and hasbrought calls from round the world for a ceasefire. By moving forces west, hiseastern home base is exposed and it may be hard for Haftar to retreat withoutlosing standing among friends and foes alike.

While some pro-Haftar media had predicted a quick victory, Tripoligovernment forces have halted him about 11 km (7 miles) from the centre near anairport that was largely destroyed in a previous bout of fighting five yearsago.

His lightning drive appears to have united diverse factions in westernLibya in the defence of Tripoli.

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