Tunis sends message of support to Sarraj

Sunday 15/05/2016
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid (L) and Libyan Prime Minister of the UN-backed unity government Faiez al-Sarraj give a joint news conference in Tripoli, on May 6th.

Tunis - Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid, among the first top foreign officials to visit Libya since the neighbouring country plunged into chaos five years ago, met his Libyan counterpart, Faiez al-Sarraj, on May 6th.
The whirlwind visit underlined Tunisia’s eagerness to see the sta­bilisation of Libya help Tunis fight jihadists and solve its social and economic woes.
Essid, accompanied by Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhi­naoui, was preceded by Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelkad­er Messahel and several European officials who travelled to Tripoli over recent weeks to display sup­port for Sarraj’s unity government as the legitimate power in Libya in the eyes of the international com­munity.
As the diplomats gathered, forces in western Libya prepared to ad­vance on Sirte, seized by the Is­lamic State (ISIS) in 2015. The fight­ers, based in Misrata, would like international logistical support to help retake the city, they have said. There is fear the situation could de­velop into civil war.
That might have prompted neigh­bouring and European countries to plan a forthcoming meeting of top diplomats in Vienna to ponder ways to back the Sarraj government
Essid and Sarraj have agreed to broaden security coordination to fight terrorism and smuggling and to better control the border, Essid’s office said.
Sarraj also met with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi in Tu­nis on May 11th and they pledged to fight terrorism together and strengthen strategic ties.
Tunisia sees Libya as a domestic issue as thousands of Tunisian ji­hadists joined ISIS and other jihad­ist groups in Libya — constituting a continuing threat to the country.
On May 11th, four members of the government security forces and three suspected jihadists were killed during security opera­tions on the outskirts of Tunis and in the southern border region of Tataouine, the Interior Ministry said.
The operations showed that Tu­nisia’s security forces were increas­ingly adopting a “pre-emptive” strategy against jihadists after being forced to ward off attacks because they lacked intelligence following the dismantlement of key intelli­gence services after the ouster of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Police disrupted a jihadist cell in Mnihla near Tunis, on May 11th. Cell members were allegedly plan­ning attacks in the capital. Authori­ties obtained information from de­tained jihadists about another cell in Tataouine, where national guards moved in swiftly to dismantle it.
The operations came in a stark contrast to the March 6th jihadist attack on Ben Guerdane in which about 100 fighters stormed the gar­rison town, attacking army and po­lice posts.
Three days later, at least 36 mili­tants were dead, along with 12 sol­diers and seven civilians, in an as­sault authorities described as an attempt by the ISIS to carve out an emirate in Tunisia.
Sources close to the Tunisian in­telligence services say the gunmen in Tataouine were ISIS fighters who had survived the Ben Guerdane bat­tle.
Many of the Ben Guerdane’s pop­ulation which had overwhelmingly rallied behind government forces battling the jihadists in March, clashed on May 10th-11th with po­lice and national guards to protest the closure of Ras Jedir border out­post. The clashes underlined the vulnerability of Tunisia’s social and security situation.
The border had been closed by Libyan militiamen backing Sarraj in Tripoli but not taking orders direct­ly from his government.
Protest leaders in Ben Guerdane, backed by the country’s main trade union, vowed to occupy the outpost if the government failed to open it and allow free flow of trade.
Tolerated smuggling of goods provides the main source of rev­enues for much of the population in the region.