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Libya’s UN-recognised government announces immediate ceasefire

Libya’s UN-recognised government announced a ceasefire across the country on Friday and called for demilitarising the contested strategic city of Sirte, raising hopes for peace in the more than nine-year-old conflict.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) also called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in March, and for an end to an oil blockade imposed by rival forces since earlier this year.

GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj “issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories”, a statement said. 

Al-Sarraj added the ultimate aim of the truce is to impose “full sovereignty over the Libyan territory and the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries”.

There was no immediate response from eastern forces military commander Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). However, Haftar agreed on an Egyptian initiative in June that included a ceasefire.

Aguila Saleh, speaker of the pro-Haftar Libyan parliament, called on all parties to adhere to the truce. Saleh said the ceasefire will prevent foreign military intervention in Libya.

The truce will make the strategic city of Sirte a temporary seat for a new presidential council to be guarded by security forces from various regions in the country, said Saleh.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – who has backed Haftar and threatened to deploy troops across the border into Libya – welcomed the ceasefire declarations, a statement said. 

As did the UN Support Mission in Libya, which called for the expulsion of all foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya. Both sides of the conflict are supported by thousands of mercenaries.

Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of The International Interest, a current affairs analysis magazine, said the announcements raised the prospect of peace in the North African nation after a number of failed ceasefires. 

“I think this is the first time in the entire Libyan conflict whereby we have military stalemate, the military dynamics are equal,” Hamdi told Al Jazeera. “This time as a result of Turkish intervention, the western side, the GNA … has enough power to prevent Haftar from marching westwards.

“This ceasefire has a very good chance of lasting because the cost of a potential battle is so high and if an individual faction decides to launch a battle by itself it would find itself obliterated,” he added.

“Now, we are seeing a new phase in the negotiations between Turkey and the other foreign powers. All the dynamics suggest that all the foreign powers prefer some sort of peace at least for the foreseeable future.” 

Oil-rich country 

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture the capital, Tripoli.

But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied fighters, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western towns.

The GNA was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed after a series of military offensives by forces loyal to Haftar.

The chaos in the oil-rich country has worsened in recent months as foreign backers increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.

Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival of Egypt and the UAE in a broader regional struggle over political Islam, is the main patron of the Tripoli forces, which are also backed by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.

The head doctor at the Siberian hospital treating Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Friday he had been diagnosed with a metabolic disease caused by low blood sugar.

Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor at the hospital treating Navalny in the city of Omsk, also said traces of industrial chemical substances had been found on the 44-year-old’s clothes and fingers.

“Today we have some working diagnoses. The main one is … a metabolic disorder,” Murakhovsky said, adding that Navalny’s condition “may be caused by a sudden drop of blood sugar levels”.

The announcement came shortly after allies of Navalny accused the Kremlin of thwarting his medical evacuation to Germany, saying the decision places his life in mortal danger because the Siberian hospital treating him is under-equipped.

Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants, is in a serious condition after drinking tea on a plane on Thursday that his allies believe was laced with poison. A doctor on Friday said his condition had improved a little overnight.

Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh spoke out against the Kremlin after Murakhovsky said moving him would put his life at risk because he was still in a coma and his condition unstable.

“The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life being carried out right now by doctors and the deceitful authorities that have authorised it,” Yarmysh wrote on social media.

She said doctors had previously consented to his being moved, but had withheld their agreement at the last minute.

“This decision, of course, was not made by them but by the Kremlin,” said Yarmysh.

Later on Friday, Navalnaya made a direct appeal to Putin to permit her husband’s medical evacuation to Germany.

She posted a letter on Navalny’s Twitter account she had signed addressed to Putin, saying: “I officially apply to you with a demand for permission to take Alexei Navalny to Germany.”

The dispute

The dispute over moving Navalny broke out as a German air ambulance landed in Omsk, the city where he is being treated, with the intention of flying him to Germany for treatment if possible.

Murakhovsky told reporters many legal questions would need to be resolved before Navalny could be handed over to European doctors.

He said top doctors had been flown in from Moscow to treat Navalny. The Moscow doctors were no worse than their European counterparts, he said.

Later on Friday, the Kremlin said not evacuating Navalny was “purely a medical decision”. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the German doctors who arrived on Friday had been invited to join Russian doctors treating Navalny.

Dangerous substance

Navalny’s team cited a police officer as saying a highly dangerous substance had been identified in his body that posed a risk to everyone around him who should therefore wear protective suits.

Navalny’s team said it believed authorities wanted to stall for time so that any trace of what poisoned him would disappear.

Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner, is among Putin’s fiercest critics. He lost consciousness while on a flight on Thursday and his plane made an emergency landing.

Doctors said they were working to save his life after he went into a coma and was put on a ventilator in intensive care.

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