Lawmakers loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government denounced an attack on Tripoli by an ally of the United Arab Emirates and defended their record in fighting terrorism, after the Gulf state said “extremist militias” ruled the capital.
They spoke at a meeting in the beleaguered city to challenge the official parliament based in Libya’s east and aligned to UAE ally Khalifa Haftar, in a move further cementing divisions in the oil-producing nation.
Haftar is fighting to capture Tripoli from forces allied to Libya’s internationally recognised government. An official of the Gulf state said the priority in Libya was to counter “extremism/terrorism”.
The UAE, along with Egypt, sees Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist militants in North Africa. A 2017 UN report said the Gulf state provided his Libyan National Army (LNA) with military and logistic support.
The campaign is the biggest military confrontation in Libya since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. Fighting picked up in Tripoli’s southern districts on Wednesday, with shelling audible in city centre, although it was less intense than at the start of the week.
Several lawmakers met in the capital to show opposition to Haftar’s assault, which has all but wrecked UN-backed efforts for a peace deal between rival factions to end eight years of conflict.
“We are here for the rejection of the offensive,” lawmaker Hamouda Siyala told Reuters.
Some parliamentarians appeared incensed by the UAE allegation but did not mention the Gulf state.
“Which terrorism are you speaking about?” asked another lawmaker, Aisha Shalabi, interrupted by people shouting “Allahu Akbar”.
“We fought it in Sirte … if you speak about militias, they are our sons who toppled Gaddafi,” she said, referring to where Islamic State was driven out by Libyan militias.
Libya split in 2014 into rival administrations and the Tripoli conflict has scuppered plans by the United Nations to hold elections to produce a national government and parliament.
“UNITY OF OUR SOIL”
The conflict threatens to unsettle oil supplies, increase migration across the Mediterranean and wreck UN plans for an election to end rivalries.
The internationally recognised parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk, to which lawmakers meeting in Tripoli belong, denounced the session in the capital as illegal.
The HoR has allied itself with Haftar, but some lawmakers from western Libya boycotted the assembly since the last national elections in 2014.
The attendance of parliamentarians was not officially disclosed. Organisers said about 42 lawmakers arrived. Reuters identified 10 in a crowded room.
Sadeq al-Kahiali, who presided, said in an opening speech “we are not here for a division or a coup, but to maintain the unity of our soil and protect Tripoli from the offensive.”
Earlier, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter: “Abu Dhabi agreement offered opportunity to support the UN-led process. Meanwhile extremist militias continue to control capital and derail search for political solution.”
Abu Dhabi, which voiced support for UN peace efforts, last February hosted talks between Prime Minister Fayez Seraj and Haftar, where they agreed a need for national elections.
Since the Tripoli offensive started, 376 people have die in fighting, including 23 civilians, and 1,822 wounded, 79 of them civilians, according to latest UN figures. More than 45,000 people fled their homes.