Libya’s conflict has increasingly become a proxy war between foreign powers, which have been backing various armed groups since the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi. The former rebels have been fighting each other since then.
Egypt, along with the United Arab Emirates, is a supporter of Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libya National Army (LNA) has been trying to take Tripoli from forces allied with the internationally recognized government (GNA). Turkey and Qatar both back the GNA.
Those nations, including Italy, Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – which also have rivalries in Libya, met to break the deadlock and enable a U.N. peace plan to move ahead.
“The idea is to put a form of political pressure on all the main actors that support the factions and say ‘Stop the military competition and proxy war and get around the table,’” said a European diplomatic source.
The meeting is the first major diplomatic push since eastern forces loyal to Haftar in April launched an offensive to take Tripoli, held by the internationally recognized government of Premier Fayez al-Serraj.
The campaign has displaced more than 120,000 people and derailed years of U.N peace efforts but gone nowhere as Haftar’s forces have been unable to breach Tripoli’s southern suburbs.
U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame last month unveiled plans for an international conference to bring together foreign powers backing rival groups on the ground.
Germany has offered to host that conference by the end of the year, although no date has been fixed.
“The idea is to get a number of key players on the same page, to move the process forward, to support Ghassan Salame and his calls for a ceasefire, for bringing the international community together and then eventually an intra-Libyan dialogue,” a senior U.N. official said.
Salame thinks Germany can mediate, as it is seen as impartial in the conflict, in contrast to France and Italy, which jointly hosted Thursday’s meeting but have been competing for influence in Libya.
Both countries brought Haftar and Serraj, along with regional players, together at summits in Paris and Palermo last year, but failed to achieve a breakthrough.
“Haftar’s war attempt to forcefully enter Tripoli is about to reach the 180-day mark, and it still hasn’t succeeded,” Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute said.
“As a result, several states now wish to use the diplomatic space in a way that protects their own agenda with regard to Libya.”