Qatar, Turkey walk in step on Libya conflict, try to shore up GNA legitimacy

Doha and Ankara ministers fail to mention that a growing number of countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, see the Skhirat Agreement as an expired or very insufficient source of political legitimacy for the GNA.

Thursday 09/07/2020
A file picture of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, walkin with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, in 2017. (AP)
A file picture of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, walkin with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, in 2017. (AP)

London – Recent statement by Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdurrahman al-Thani indicate a consensus has been reached with Ankara on the trajectory the Libyan conflict should take.

 The statements came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that foreign interference in the North African country’s war has reached “unprecedented levels.”  

 Both Ankara and Doha have made statement to shore up the increasingly-challenged legitimacy of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

The Turkish Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday that Doha weighed in on the Libyan conflict and urged the international community to support the Turkish-backed GNA.

“It has become clear that the only solution to the Libyan crisis is to support the legitimate government,” the Qatari foreign minister said.

Al-Thani added that it is necessary to implement resolutions on the conflict by the United Nations Security Council, the Berlin peace  conference that took place earlier this year and the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, which recognised the GNA as Libya’s government. 

“Some countries initially supported this agreement but then violated it by supporting opposition groups against the government,” Al-Thani said. 

Doha and Ankara ministers fail to mention that a growing number of countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, see the Skhirat Agreement as an expired or very insufficient source of political legitimacy for the GNA.

 The UN secretary-general urged Wednesday for key players and their backers to unblock the political stalemate and agree to a ceasefire and peace talks, calling the current situation “gloomy.”

Guterres said that the United Nations political mission in Libya is undertaking de-escalation efforts, “including the creation of a possible demilitarised zone,” to try to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives.

He said between April 1 and June 30 there were at least 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilians wounded in Libya, “a 172% increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.”

Guterres also addressed a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council six months after leaders of 11 world powers and other countries with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war agreed at a conference in Berlin to respect a much-violated UN arms embargo, hold off on military support to the warring parties and push them to reach a full ceasefire.

Guterres decried the failure of the parties to adhere to the Berlin agreement and demand its speedy implementation.

Qatar and Turkey support the GNA in its war against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which is said to be backed by Russia, Egypt and France, among others.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to Qatar for a day of meetings and met with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Presidential Communications Directorate said in a statement.

Ankara and Doha have enjoyed close relations, particularly since a diplomatic crisis with Qatar erupted on June 5, 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused the Gulf country of supporting Islamist groups, also backed by Turkey, and having close relations with Iran, with the aim of destabilising the region and threatening the security of neighbouring countries.

Qatar’s suspected support for Islamist factions in Libya was pointed out in a sanctions list issued by the Arab Quartet. On the list of the 71 Qatari-linked organisations and individuals were leading players in Libya, including the al-Qaeda-aligned Benghazi Defence Brigades.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed Libyan uprising, Doha has funnelled arms and other support to Libyan militias through radical Ali Muhammed al-Salabi and his brother Ismail, a leader of the Benghazi Defence Brigades.

 The Benghazi Defence Brigades has ties with Ansar al-Sharia, the group behind the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Ansar al-Sharia is also suspected of terrorist activities in Tunisia.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-led military campaign and a popular uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

The LNA launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli in April 2019, and the crisis in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervened despite pledges at the Berlin conference.

The LNA’s offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey — which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January — as well as Italy and Qatar.

Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.

Egypt warned that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attacked Sirte and the inland Jufra air base.

On Wednesday, Guterres told the Security Council that forces supporting the government are now 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Sirte, after two previous attempts to gain control of the city.

“The situation on the front lines has been mostly quiet since June 10,” he said.

“However, we are very concerned about the alarming military buildup around the city, and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and the commitments made by member states in Berlin.”