Sisi says Egypt won't stand idle in Libya if security is threatened

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan security, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday, after lawmakers allied to commander Khalifa Haftar urged Cairo to intervene militarily in Libya’s civil war.

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

Tribal leaders who flew in from Haftar’s Benghazi stronghold told Sisi at a meeting in Cairo that they authorized him and the Egyptian army to intervene in their country to counter what they described as the “Turkish invasion and terrorism”.

The meeting, broadcast on state TV, illustrates the growing regional stakes in Libya, divided since 2014 between areas held by an internationally recognised government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and a rival eastern administration, backed by the UAE, Russia and Egypt.

The eastern-based parliament allied to Haftar called on Egypt this week to help counter Turkish support for Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli.

Turkey has helped the Tripoli administration force Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to abandon an offensive on Tripoli.

Any major escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.

In response to Turkish actions, Sisi last month said Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on the central Sirte-Jufrah frontline seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals. Both areas are held by the LNA.

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At the meeting with tribal leaders backing Haftar, Sisi said “the red lines that we announced earlier... were basically a call for peace and to put an end to the conflict in Libya.”

“But we will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to our national strategic security on our western borders, especially in light of the increasing military build-up operations in the vicinity of the city of Sirte.”

Sisi said he would seek approval for any military move in parliament, which is dominated by his supporters. “Egypt is able to change the military situation quickly and decisively if it wants,” Sisi said before urging all parties to stop fighting.

Haftar enjoys the backing of tribes mainly from east but also former LNA strongholds like Tarhouna in western Libya.

But the former officer from the regime of toppled Muammar Gaddafi is very unpopular in much of western Libya after his 14-month assault on Tripoli, which displaced some 200,000 people.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Mohamed Wali, Mohamed Hendawy, Omar Fahmy and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by William Maclean