Mona Salem
Last updated: 18 February, 2015

Egypt pushes for UN action on Libya jihadists

Egypt pushed for action against jihadists in Libya ahead of a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday but faced reluctance from Western powers who stressed the need for a political solution.

Arab states will ask the UN Security Council Wednesday to lift an arms embargo on weapons sales to Libya’s internationally recognised government for its fight against jihadists, Egypt said.

Cairo, which is pushing for tough measures against the Islamic State group in Libya after jihadists there beheaded Egyptian Christians, had called for international military action against IS but dropped the request after Western hesitation.

It also said Arab states would propose a resolution that requests the lifting of an arms embargo to allow “the legitimate government (of Libya) to enable it to fight against terrorism”.

“There is no call for foreign military intervention,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said hours before a Security Council session on Libya.

That draft would also call for “increased surveillance from the sea and air to prevent deliveries of weapons to armed militants,” the ministry added.

The UN imposed an arms embargo on Libya at the start of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi to protect civilians from his forces.

The strife-torn North African country now has two rival governments and parliaments, one recognised by the international community and the other with ties to Islamists.

The decision to submit the draft resolution came after a meeting between Arab UN envoys and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who warned of the risks of inaction.

In their talks, Shoukry stressed “the need for the international community… to assume its responsibilities towards the deteriorating situation in Libya, as it represents a clear threat to international peace and security,” his ministry said.

A US-led coalition is already carrying out air strikes against IS targets in Syria and Iraq, and Egyptian officials have suggested they should be expanded to Libya.

But Western powers are wary of committing to action in Libya, still awash with weapons and rival militias battling for control of its cities and oil wealth.

Libya’s neighbour Tunisia said it too opposed military intervention, instead calling for a political solution.

– Talks are ‘best hope’ –

That echoed a statement Tuesday by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain that an ongoing UN-backed attempt to get Libya’s warring sides to negotiate forming a government of national unity was the “best hope” for peace.

Shoukry said the UN must “reconsider the restrictions” on arms deliveries to the Libyan government, which is seeking to “impose its authority and restore stability,” according to his office.

Libya has descended into chaos since the 2011 revolt, with the internationally recognised government forced to flee to the country’s east and militias in control of Tripoli and other main cities.

Some militias have pledged allegiance to IS — the brutal Sunni Muslim group in control of large parts of Syria and Iraq — and one of them released this week a video of the gruesome mass beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians.

The country’s main militias, including the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya coalition that has declared a rival government in Tripoli and has been involved in the peace talks, have not linked up with IS.

But Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned of the threat of such an alliance.

“There is an evident risk of an alliance being forged between local groups and Daesh, and it is a situation that has to be monitored with maximum attention,” Gentiloni said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

– No ‘adventures nor crusades’ –

“We have to be clear, the situation has deteriorated. The time at our disposal is not infinite and is in danger of running out soon,” he said while stressing that Italy believed in a political solution.

“Saying we are in the front line does not mean announcing adventures or crusades.”

The chaos in Libya has also contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of migrants attempting to travel across the Mediterranean from the country to Europe.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said “there is no choice” but to form an international coalition to tackle Libya’s militants by force.

Experts say Sisi wants to be seen as a key ally of the West against extremism, deflecting international criticism of his crackdown on Islamists after ousting president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.