The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have urged all sides in the Libyan conflict to cease fighting, after renegade military chief Khalifa Haftar called on his forces to advance towards the centre of the capital, Tripoli.
Following a European Union summit on Friday in Brussels, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Giuseppe Conte said stability in Libya “can only be achieved through a political solution”.
The three leaders did not mention Haftar by name, but their statement was issued after the eastern-based military commander announced on Thursday a “decisive battle and the advance on the heart of Tripoli”, the seat of the country’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
“Zero hour has come for the broad and total assault expected by every free and honest Libyan,” Haftar said in the televised address.
In a mocking response on Friday, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of GNA, said in a televised address: “There is no zero except a zero delusion.
“There is no control or storming of Tripoli or its neighbourhoods,” he added.
“I call on you all to rally around the project of [creating] a civil state and to believe in our right to have a state of law, institutions and freedoms,” al-Sarraj said, addressing Libyans.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Since 2014, the country has been divided between shifting rival political and military factions based in Tripoli and the east.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive to wrest control of the capital in April but has been unable to break through the defences of the GNA, which emerged in early 2016 following a United Nations-mediated deal in late 2015.
The three European countries are worried that renewed fighting in the capital will further complicate efforts to find a definitive solution to the conflict.
Friday’s statement urged “all Libyan and international parties to cease military action, make a sincere commitment to a comprehensive and lasting cessation of hostilities and resume a credible UN-led negotiation process.”
“They reaffirmed their full support for the United Nations and the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salame, as lasting peace and stability in Libya can only be achieved through a political solution,” the statement said.
Separately, Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday called for dialogue between Libya’s foreign warring factions.
In late September, US media reported that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group – owned by a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin – were assisting Haftar’s forces outside Tripoli.
In addition to Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, France, support Haftar.
At least 200 civilians and more than 2,000 fighters have been killed since the start of Haftar’s assault on Tripoli, according to the United Nations. The fighting has also displaced some 146,000 people.