Italy, Germany and the United States pushed Monday for a cease-fire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attack the strategic city of Sirte, The Associated Press reported.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, said after talks in Rome that a cease-fire is urgent given the Egyptian threat. Di Maio also called for the quick naming of a new UN envoy and the strong enforcement of a UN arms embargo on Libya.
“If we stop the arrival of weapons, or strongly reduce them, we will be able to reduce the aggressiveness of the Libyan parties in this conflict,” Di Maio said.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base by Turkish-backed forces loyal to the UN-supported but weak government in Tripoli would amount to crossing a “red line.”
He said Egypt could intervene militarily with the intention of protecting its western border with the oil-rich country, and of bringing stability — including establishing conditions for a cease-fire.
The Tripoli-based government dismissed el-Sisi’s comments as a “declaration of war” while authorities in the east welcomed his support.
The US National Security Council meanwhile called for the resumption of Libya’s long-delayed political negotiations.
“The United States strongly opposes military escalation in Libya — on all sides. We urge parties to commit to a ceasefire and resume negotiations immediately,” it tweeted.
US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa Command, met Monday with Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in the Libyan capital, according to a statement from the UN-supported government.
The meeting, which was attended by US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland and other Tripoli officials, discussed recent military developments, US efforts to stabilize Libya and combatting militant groups, the statement said.
The German foreign minister said the Egyptian threat indicated that a further escalation was possible, making it “all the more urgent to agree on a cease-fire now.”
Italy is particularly concerned that any escalation of the conflict will unleash more waves of migrants onto smugglers’ boats headed for Italian shores. The coronavirus emergency in hard-hit Italy stemmed their arrivals, but authorities fear that the numbers will swell again with the health emergency easing and the return to the Mediterranean Sea of humanitarian rescue ships.