The forces of Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar have released a vessel with Turkish crew members seized over the weekend in the Mediterranean Sea.
Ahmad al-Masmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, said on Monday they found no weapons on the vessel flying a Grenada flag, which was carrying a shipment of flour from Malta to the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria.
The vessel was seized “because it entered Libya‘s territorial waters without prior permission”, the spokesman said.
The LNA seized the vessel on Saturday and took it into a Libyan port under its control for inspection.
The vessel’s seizure came amid tensions between the LNA and Turkey, which backs Libya’s UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the country’s capital of Tripoli.
Since April, Haftar’s forces have led an offensive against the GNA, trying to capture Tripoli from the militias defending it.
Turkey and the GNA signed maritime and security agreements last month, drawing international outrage and concern from several Mediterranean countries.
The deals, which were approved by the Turkish parliament on Saturday, allow Ankara to provide military training and equipment at Tripoli’s request.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said Turkey could send troops to Libya if the Tripoli government formally asked for their deployment.
Separately, EU spokesman Peter Stano cautioned on Monday that “there is no military solution to the crisis in Libya”, and called on all parties to cease their military actions.
Battle for Tripoli
Meanwhile, Haftar’s forces late on Sunday extended a three-day deadline they had previously given to militias fighting to defend Tripoli against the LNA offensive.
The LNA is demanding the militias pull out of both Tripoli and the coastal city of Sirte. The new deadline ends on Wednesday.
The fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Haftar declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital.
Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt.
The offensive threatens to plunge Libya into another bout of violence, the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.