More mysterious air-strikes in Libya
The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)
European diplomats have launched an effort to dissuade Russia from its apparent plans to assist Haftar, who has expressed his intention to seize overall military power in Libya. The EU hopes to enlist Russia in persuading Haftar to accept an enhanced military role, but under control of the Tripoli-based "official" Libyan government set up in December 2015. (The Guardian, Feb. 9)
Italy meanwhile entered into an agreement with Tunisia to cooperate on stopping illegal migration and human trafficking across the Mediterranean—including provisions to help strengthen Tunisia's borders with Libya and Algeria. The agreement was signed during a state visit to Italy by the Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. (Libya Herald, Feb. 9)
However, the UN special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, expressed concern about the agreement, stating that '"migrants cannot be repatriated to Libya in this phase. I understand Europe's concern, but repatriation is not a solution that can be practiced given humanitarian conditions in the country'." (ANSA, Feb. 9)
Earlier in the week, Italy signed an accord with the Tripoli government, pledging €220 million ($236 million) to help its coast guard intercept migrants, and return them to Libya—where they will presumably be held in detention camps. The agreement comes just as the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement decrying the "deplorable conditions" faced by migrants currently held in Libya. (Quartz, Feb. 8)
The "Central Mediterranean route" from Libya to Italy now accounts for some half of migrants attempting to reach Europe. A contingent of Italian troops has been dispatched to Tripoli to help the so-called Government of National Accord establish control.