CAIRO. – Libya’s Khalifa Haftar was in Egypt on Sunday on a previously unannounced visit, taking time out from his Libyan National Army’s march on the Libyan capital to hold talks with his Egyptian sponsor, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
Egypt’s presidential palace has not released details on Haftar’s talks with President Sisi. According to Egyptian state newspaper Al Ahram, they “are discussing the latest developments in Libya.”
Images released by the palace show President Sisi flanked by Haftar and the head of Egypt’s intelligence Abbas Kamel in the reception hall of the presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.
Egypt has supported Haftar’s drive against Islamic militants in the east and south of its western neighbour, providing both funding and arms to his LNA. Haftar in turn has modelled his muscular leadership style on Egypt’s Sisi, himself an army general turned president.
There are claims that on occasion, Egyptian warplanes flying in support of the LNA have bombed positions suspected of belonging to militants, blamed by Cairo for a series of cross-border attacks against its security forces and minority Christians traveling to remote desert monasteries.
It is not clear whether Haftar’s surprise march on Tripoli was launched with the prior knowledge or the approval of the Egyptians. But analysts believe the campaign on the capital of a UN-backed government could potentially reignite large-sale fighting among the country’s rival powers and undermine international efforts to reunite the fractured North African nation.
So far, the LNA have ignored international calls to halt their battle against fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al Sarraj in Tripoli.
Since the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been ruled by rival administrations in the east and west of the vast, oil-rich country. Moreover, militias, mostly Islamist, have held sway over large regions, particularly in the west and south of the country.
Haftar frames his march on Tripoli as part of his fight against Islamic militants and to restore law and order in Libya. As well as fighting on the ground, the two sides have launched daily air raids and accuse each other of targeting civilians.
Since April 4 when Haftar launched his offensive, more than 121 people have been killed in Tripoli and a further 561 wounded, according to the World Health Organisation. Medical workers have been targeted in the clashes, with three medical personnel killed and eight ambulances damaged since fighting began, according to the UN.
The World Health Organisation tweeted that it “strongly condemns repeated attacks on health care workers, vehicles.” Despite this, the WHO said it was sending more medical supplies and health staff to Libya to cope with an anticipated increase in casualties.
More than 13,500 people had been displaced by the clashes, while more than 900 residents are living in shelters, according to the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs OCHA.
The UN said on Sunday a school was bombed in Ain Zara southwest of Tripoli, without saying who was responsible. Both sides have carried out airstrikes on the town, and a spokesman for the Libya National Army said it has stepped up strikes on its rivals in the past two days.
“The humanitarian community repeats its warning that continuing to attack medical and civilian facilities is a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” OCHA said in a statement.”
Earlier this month, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry warned that Libya’s conflict could not be solved militarily. His remarks came at a Cairo press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who also called for a political solution among all sides in Libya.
Gen Haftar, was exiled in the United States for two decades and is a US citizen. He returned to Libya in 2011 when the uprising against Gaddafi began, to command forces that would eventually topple the longstanding dictator. – The National (UAE)