Erdogan: Turkey will increase military support to GNA if needed

Turkish president's announcement comes after Khalifa Haftar's naval forces tow ship with Turkish crew off Libya's coast.

    Erdogan says Turkey has recently provided 'very serious' support to the GNA [Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu]
    Erdogan says Turkey has recently provided 'very serious' support to the GNA [Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu]

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey will increase its military support to the internationally recognised government of Libya if necessary, a day after the Turkish parliament ratified a security and military cooperation deal signed between Ankara and Tripoli last month.

    "We will evaluate all kinds of military support including ground, marine and air options if necessary," Erdogan said during a speech on Sunday in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.

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    Turkey backs Fayez al-Serraj's Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, which has been torn by factional conflict since 2011, and has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a report by UN experts seen by Reuters last month.

    Turkey has also said it could deploy troops to Libya if the GNA makes such a request.

    The GNA has been fighting a months-long offensive by Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar forces based in the east of the country. Haftar's forces have received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Russia.

    Erdogan also said Turkey had recently provided "very serious" support to the GNA, adding Libya was a country Turkey would support "with its life".

    "They are supporting an illegal warlord, who is the pawn of certain nations, instead of the UN-recognised government," Erdogan said, in an apparent reference to Haftar and the countries who support him.

    Support for GNA

    Last month, Turkey and the GNA signed an accord to boost military cooperation and a separate deal on maritime boundaries, which has enraged Greece.

    Referring to the deal, Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will "absolutely" not turn back from its agreements with Libya.

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    "Nobody should come to us with attempts to exclude us, trap us in our own shores or steal our economic interests," Erdogan said. "We have no intention of starting conflicts with anyone for no reason, or robbing anyone of their rights," he said.

    "Those who oppose us have no sense of rights, law, justice, ethics or mercy," Erdogan said, referring to Greece, Israel and Egypt, who have opposed the maritime accord.

    Ankara and Athens have been at odds over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus.

    While Greece has said the accord violates international law, Turkey has rejected those accusations, saying it aims to protect its rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

    Turkish ship towed

    Erdogan's announcement comes after forces loyal to Haftar towed a Grenada-flagged ship with Turkish crew off the Libyan coast, a spokesman said on Saturday.

    A naval combat vessel belonging to Haftar's self-styled eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) stopped the ship in Libyan territorial waters off the eastern city of Derna and towed it to Ras El Hilal port "for inspection and to verify its cargo", LNA spokesperson Ahmed Mismari said without giving further details.

    The eastern forces provided Reuters News Agency with a video that shows Libyan navy forces stopping the ship and questioning three crew members. They also published copies of passports of three Turkish nationals.

    A Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson told Al Jazeera the ship developed "technical problems" and could not dock properly, leading the ship to ask for help from Libya's coastguards.

    "The ship was taken to have its cargo checked," Hami Akosy said, confirming that three Turkish nationals were onboard.

    It was not immediately clear what the ship was carrying. 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies