The speaker of Libya’s eastern-based Parliament has urged Egypt to intervene militarily if forces allied with the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) attack the strategic city of Sirte, Egypt’s state news agency has reported.
An Egyptian intervention in Libya would be “legitimate … if the terrorist and armed militias crossed the red line”, Aguila Saleh was quoted as saying by the official MENA news agency on Wednesday.
“The Libyan people are officially asking for Egypt to interfere with military forces if the necessities of maintaining Libyan national security and Egyptian national security require this.”
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, it has been split between rival factions based in the capital, Tripoli, and in the east, in a sometimes chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Eastern-based forces under renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture Tripoli from the GNA.
Haftar’s forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, were forced to retreat from much of western Libya in recent weeks after Turkey stepped up its support for the UN-brokered government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
Buoyed by their recent battlefield victories, GNA-aligned forces said they would stop their advance after retaking Sirte, a city of some 125,000 people on the Mediterranean coast and the inland Jufra airbase.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, however, warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or Jufra would amount to crossing a “red line”.
He said Egypt could intervene militarily to protect its western border with the oil-rich country.
In response, the GNA said it considered el-Sisi’s comments a “declaration of war”.
El-Sisi’s threat prompted Italy, Germany and the United States to push for a ceasefire, fearing an even wider war. Arab League foreign ministers also warned against a “continuation of military action that alters existing front lines” in Libya.
Earlier on Wednesday, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tripoli, where he met al-Sarraj.
A statement from the GNA head’s office said both men rejected “the negative foreign interference” in Libya.
They also discussed the European Union’s naval operation in the Mediterranean aimed at enforcing a UN arms embargo on Libya, the statement said, without providing details.
Di Maio told reporters after his return to Rome that he conveyed to al-Sarraj Italy’s concerns about a possible attack on Sirte, which he said could lead to renewed fighting and more civilian casualties.
“I stated how essential it is to avoid a freezing of the conflict, and that this possibility would lead to a de facto division of the country,” he said.
The country splitting in two would be “unacceptable” and would lead to further conflict, he added.