Egypt’s El-Sisi says militias hold Libyan government ‘hostage’

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Libya’s UN-supported government is held hostage by “armed and terrorist militias” in the capital, Tripoli, Egypt’s leader said Sunday.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in televised comments that the Government of National Accord “is not able to have a free and real will because they have been taken hostage by armed and terrorist militias there.”

The GNA is backed by Egypt’s regional rivals Turkey and Qatar. Egypt’s relations with the two countries have been strained since 2013 when El-Sisi, as defense minister, led the military to overthrow President Muhammad Mursi in 2013, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, amid mass protests against his brief rule.

The Tripoli-based government is supported by a Libyan affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood group, which Cairo designated as a terrorist organization in 2013. The political party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, too.

El-Sisi said his country has been “negatively affected” by the conflict in Libya, which descended into chaos after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Last week, the Egyptian president said a comprehensive political solution would be achieved in the coming months that would put an end to a “terrorist hotbed that pushes militants and weapons to (Libya’s) neighboring countries including Egypt.”

In the chaos that followed Qaddafi’s death, Libya was divided into two parts, a weak UN-supported administration in Tripoli and a rival government in the east aligned with the Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar, who has modelled himself after El-Sisi, has for months been fighting an array of militias allied with the Tripoli authorities to wrest control of the capital. He is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

On Saturday, Egypt’s parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al said Egypt recognizes the Libyan legislature as “the sole legitimate body representing the Libyan people,” according to the MENA news agency. He said the Egyptian parliament backs Haftar’s forces in their “fighting against terrorism.”

Following El-Sisi’s speech, Bahrain renewed its support to Egypt in protecting Arab national security and enhancing stability in the region, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

“Bahrain confirmed that the kingdom’s position is consistent and supportive of Arab Egypt, its security, stability and full support for the tireless and continuous efforts undertaken by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to promote development and prosperity of the Egyptian people, protect Arab national security and enhance stability in the region.”

Bahrain stressed its support for Egypt’s endeavours, which seeks to restore security and peace in Libya, guarantee its sovereignty, contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Libyan people in development and progress, and eliminating various forms of violence, extremism and terrorism.

Libya’s parliament is affiliated with the government based in the country’s east and has opposed the UN-supported government in Tripoli.

Abdel-Al did not say whether the government of El-Sisi decided to rescind its recognition of the Tripoli-based government. Multiple calls to the country’s presidency and Foreign Ministry went unanswered.

The Libyan commander Thursday declared a “final” and decisive battle for Tripoli, unleashing heavy clashes on the southern reaches of the city in the past two days against the Tripoli-based militias.

El-Sisi’s comments came amid heightened tensions with Turkey after a controversial maritime border agreement it signed last month with Libya’s UN-based government.

Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically, have denounced the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the issue.

El-Sisi’s comments also come as Libya’s embassy in Egypt was closed indefinitely from Sunday, the mission said on its Facebook page citing security concerns.

“The embassy of Libya in Cairo… suspended its work due to security reasons starting Sunday and until further notice,” a statement said without giving further details.

It however flatly denied in a separate statement reports suggesting that some embassy staff had broken ranks with the weakly UN-supported administration in Tripoli.

The GNA’s foreign ministry confirmed that the embassy had been closed indefinitely, in a statement on Facebook.

It said the work at the mission was suspended in order to protect staff after a series of recent “violations” targeting the embassy, including attempts by some to “blackmail” employees in order to obtain money.

The foreign ministry gave no further details but said “work is underway with the Egyptian authorities to put an end to these violations and secure the embassy as required.”

The embassy would resume its operations when it is secured, it added.

The Libyan embassy in neighboring Egypt has long been at the center of a power struggle between the country’s rival administrations in the east and the west.

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