With coronavirus infection creeping into populations around the world, a broad humanitarian appeal from the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop fighting in Libya has fallen on deaf ears.
Forces of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) recaptured strategic coastal cities in the west of Tripoli, which were key launching pads for the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
“With Turkey’s supply of advanced arms and equipment and aerial dominance through Turkish drones, the GNA forces are poised to try to capture Tarhouna, the LNA’s main operations base about 60 kilometers southeast of Tripoli,” Wolfgang Pusztai, a security analyst at the National Council on US-Libya Relations, told Inside Arabia.
“Although GNA forces failed 10 days ago to take Tarhouna, now with Turkish offshore frigates armed with surface-to-air missiles and drones, capturing LNA’s stronghold could be feasible but difficult,” Pusztai added.
“The possibility of reaching a ceasefire due to the Turkish support of the GNA and . . . losses by Haftar’s forces is very remote.”
According to Rhiannon Smith, Managing Editor for the London-based Libya Analysis, the possibility of reaching a ceasefire due to the Turkish support of the GNA and the series of losses by Haftar’s forces is very remote.
“Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that there will be any kind of a meaningful ceasefire in the short term, because the international community is focused on the pandemic and is not interested in mediating a ceasefire in Libya,” Smith told Inside Arabia.
She also noted that the UN failed to select a new envoy to Libya to replace Ghassan Salame, who resigned last month.
Some diplomatic sources told Agence France Presse that the US rejected the appointment of former Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra as the new UN envoy to Libya after pressure from Egypt and the UAE because they believe he has close ties to the GNA.
Because the Libyan civil war is a proxy war between regional and international players, Haftar’s backers like Egypt, the UAE, Russia, and France are likely to boost their support to prevent LNA defeat.
However, Smith expects a different outcome if Haftar failed to recover.
“If countries like Egypt, the UAE, and Russia, which are providing Haftar with weapons, funds, and political support realized that his military operation is failing or would take years to achieve their goals, they might be reluctant to continue their relentless support.”
The European Union launched a naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea to enforce UN arms embargo on Libya.
The European Union launched a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. But the GNA criticized the mission because it does not impose an embargo on weapons reaching LNA by air and land.
Heading for Partition
Failing to deliver his repeated promises to take over Tripoli after a year of military campaign, Haftar urged Libyans to abandon the Skhirat Agreement that was signed in Morocco in 2015 as a Libyan roadmap for a political solution. Haftar called on the Libyan people to task an authority to manage Libya, urging them to pick a side qualified to lead the country and pledged that his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army will protect their choices.
Smith interpreted this call as a precursor to some sort of partitioning of Libya.
“I think partitioning is a real danger particularly if Haftar is forced away from Tripoli and resorted to cut his losses by using the Libyan oil fields he controls to set up his own authority and establish a new state in Eastern Libya,” she told Inside Arabia.
Potential COVID-19 Outbreak
While new cases of coronavirus infections are being reported in Libya, the situation is getting worse day by day; intensified fighting is making life difficult for so many civilians combining living with endless war and the rising threat of the coronavirus.
Puzstai believes that with a country that has no central government, a fragile health system and few tests, Libya faces a growing fear of coronavirus outbreak, especially in detention centers.
“Approximately 150,000 people are displaced by the fighting, many living in makeshift shelters—ideal for virus spreading.”
“Approximately 150,000 people are displaced by the fighting, many living in makeshift shelters—ideal for virus spreading. Thousands more immigrants and refugees are crammed into unhealthy camps prone to infection spreading,” Puzstai explained.
He argues that if the number of coronavirus cases increased significantly in Libya, it would be very difficult for the warring sides to continue fighting and that could produce some sort of a local ceasefire in the Tripoli area.
Rhiannon Smith agrees: “The country is no longer exporting oil, the coronavirus is likely to spread in Libya and the health system is not equipped to handle such pandemic,” adding that Libya would face a humanitarian and economic crisis in the coming weeks.
Indeed, she went on, even prior to recent escalation in the Libyan civil war, health infrastructure [was] severely damaged during the 2011 uprising, which made the public health situation very fragile as it was largely underfunded for many years. The attacks on hospitals and medical facilities exacerbated the situation.
“Prior to recent escalation in the Libyan civil war, health infrastructure [was] severely damaged during the 2011 uprising.”
Wolfgang Pusztai noted that both the GNA and the LNA have imposed curfews to limit the coronavirus spread but the Libyan health system is not ready to provide the sufficient number of beds and intensive care units, and so Libya would definitely need international medical help.
Pusztai noted that in a divided country with two governments, two central banks, and a degraded health system, there is at least common acceptance of the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) in Tripoli.
“While key international donors are overwhelmed with their huge pandemic challenges, any limited health support for Libya, with its small population, could achieve a lot, provided that any assistance is delivered to the NCDC as a focal point of support,” he said.
In Pusztai’s view, since the international community failed to bring about a ceasefire, at the very least, it should help the Libyan people to increase the number of tests to get a better picture of how many cases of coronavirus really exist in the war-torn country.