Smoke rises from Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 28, 2020. The forces of the UN-backed Libyan government said on Friday that the rival east-based army attacked the Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli with heavy shelling. (Photo by Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua)
Smoke rises from Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 28, 2020. The forces of the UN-backed Libyan government said on Friday that the rival east-based army attacked the Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli with heavy shelling. (Photo by Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua)

by Mahmoud Darwesh

Libya’s UN-backed government and the rival eastern-based army are mobilizing forces in preparation for the fight to control the city of Sirte, some 450 km east of the capital Tripoli.

The UN-backed government is trying to take Sirte from the eastern-based army, which withdrew from western Libya recently after more than a year of fighting.

Libya experts believe that the Sirte fight would be crucial for both rivals and could determine the future political scene in Libya.

“The military mobilization that has been going on for nearly two months near Sirte clearly shows that the next fight would be crucial,” Khalid Al-Montaser, a Libyan International relations professor, told Xinhua.

“It could last for weeks or even months, given the city’s significance for the UN-backed government and the eastern-based army,” he said. “The UN-backed government believes that taking over Sirte is the beginning of controlling eastern Libya.”

“Without a doubt, each party is supported by foreign countries. Therefore, I believe this fight will be crucial in ending the dispute for either of the rival parties. The loser will accept the terms of the winner without any delay,” he said.

Ahmad Al-Hisnawi, a retired Libyan army officer, believes that Sirte is witnessing the largest military mobilization since 2011.

“Sirte has witnessed two wars in 2011 and 2016. If a third war erupted in the city, it means that the city would be completely destroyed and the residents would flee. Therefore, the choice of making it a demilitarized zone is possible if there is a political will, ” Al-Hisnawi told Xinhua.

“The UN and the U.S. are leading a multi-party plan to spare Sirte from military conflict and create a truce around it. This could lead to political and military concessions from both parties in the near future,” he said.

Earlier in June, the UN-backed government announced launching a military operation to take over Sirte from the eastern-based army, confirming that the attack would take place in time.

Over the past few days, the UN-backed government deployed its forces in areas west of Sirte.

Khaled Al-Tarhuni, a Libyan political analyst, believes that there are equal chances of war and peace in Sirte, all of which linked to related international agreements.

The most important of those agreements is convincing the eastern-based army leadership to reopen the oilfields and ports, he said.

“When the UN-backed government decided to attack Sirte, the main purpose wasn’t the city itself. The UN-backed government knows that the key to resume oil exports is to take control of the city of Sirte that is located near the oil crescent region,” Al-Tarhuni told Xinhua.

“International efforts continue to convene forces of Haftar (commander of eastern-based army) to reopen oilfields and ports, in exchange for convencing the Tripoli-based government to let go of the military option and advance into the east,” he said.

“The negotiations did not stop. We could hear about resumption of oil exports and reducing of the military tension near Sirte, all within an international agreement that guarantees everybody’s current positions. It could also delay distribution of the oil revenues, the main demand of eastern tribes as well as the eastern-based army,” he explained.

Libya has been suffering escalated violence and political instability ever since the fall of the late leader Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Enditem

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