Turkey’s parliament voting on whether to send Turkish troops to Libya, to back the UN-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli, which is battling forces loyal to a rival administration based in eastern Libya.
The Turkish legislators are expected to approve the motion at Thursday’s emergency session and grant a one-year mandate for the deployment, despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate Libya’s conflict further and destabilise the region.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has faced an attack by the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive against the capital in early April.
The LNA fighters have failed to reach the centre of the city but deadly fighting around Tripoli has escalated in recent weeks after Haftar declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital in December.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that al-Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment after the two signed a military deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya.
That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has drawn ire across the region and beyond.
Details of the possible Turkish deployment have not been revealed. The motion to be debated in parliament allows the government to decide on the scope, size and timing of the deployment.
Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.
Turkey’s main opposition party has made clear it would vote against the motion, saying it would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the “shedding of Muslims’ blood”.
It has called on Erdogan’s government to search for a diplomatic solution in Libya instead.
Reporting from Ankara, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been lobbying opposition leaders, trying to get as much support as possible.
“The government seems to be in a race against time. The defence minister has been speaking, saying that it is the moral obligation of Turkey to deploy as quickly as possible,” Adow said.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party is in a governing alliance with a nationalist party; the two hold sufficient votes for the motion to pass.
Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the Tripoli-based government receives support from Turkey.
With rival administrations in the east and west vying for power, the fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violence rivalling the 2011 conflict which led to the removal and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Adow said Turkey has been trying to gain influence in Libya since Gaddafi’s fall.
“This gives it the perfect opportunity to do just that,” Adow said.
Three civilians killed
The Ankara vote comes after three civilians were killed on Wednesday in an air raid on a town south of Libya’s capital Tripoli, a spokesman for the UN-recognised government said.
“Three were killed and three wounded in an air raid on al-Sawani,” Amin al-Hachemi, spokesman for the GNA, told AFP news agency.
Al-Sawani lies about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the capital and is under GNA control.
Several shops were badly damaged in the air raid, Hachemi said.
On their Facebook page, forces loyal to the GNA published pictures of damaged buildings and vehicles, and accused pro-Haftar forces of carrying out the raid.
GNA forces said in a statement that they had captured 25 pro-Haftar fighters on Wednesday.
According to UN figures published last month, clashes around Tripoli since April 4 have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters, while more than 140,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.
Earlier, the UN envoy to Libya accused Security Council members of violating an arms embargo.
Ghassan Salame also said there are concerns about foreign fighters being flown into Libya, adding that the deal signed between Turkey and the GNA represents an “escalation” of the conflict in the North African country.
Emadeddin Badi, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, told Al Jazeera that the inaction of countries such as the US and France has allowed countries like Russia and Turkey to come to fill the vacuum, as the violence continues.