Libya’s neighbors, global envoys seek solutions to conflict

Foreign ministers from Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia and Mali pose before a meeting of Libya's neighboring countries and beyond, Thursday, Jan 23, 2020 in Algiers. (AP Photo)
Updated 24 January 2020

Libya’s neighbors, global envoys seek solutions to conflict

  • The meeting includes foreign ministers from Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia and Mali

ALGIERS: Top diplomats from Libya’s neighboring countries and beyond met in the Algerian capital on Thursday amid intensifying international efforts to end the conflict tearing apart the oil-rich North African country.
The meeting brought together foreign ministers from Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia and Mali. All of the nations but Mali border Libya, and all have suffered fallout from the fighting between the forces of Libya’s UN-backed weak government in Tripoli and eastern-based forces led by Gen. Khalifa Hafter.
World powers are pushing both sides to respect a tentative truce.
“Libya has been in turmoil. The conflict there has increasingly turned into a proxy war by foreign powers that are far away and much less affected by what is happening,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who also took part in the meeting.
Maas, whose country hosted a Libya peace summit on Sunday, said much of the fallout from the conflict, including organized crime, terrorism, smuggling of weapons and humans, and flows of refugees, has been borne by Libya’s neighbors.
“It is therefore the neighbors that have the most interest in peace and stability in Libya,” he said.
Algeria said countries attending the meeting agreed to respect Libya’s sovereignty and integrity, want the African Union to be involved in resolving the conflict, and back efforts to stop weapons from flowing to warring parties.
Hafter’s forces, which control the east and much of southern Libya, receive support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The Tripoli-based government is backed by Turkey and to a lesser degree, Qatar and Italy.
Germany’s Maas said international actors must maintain “persistent pressure” on the warring parties to turn the temporary truce into a stable cease-fire.
Maas said the Berlin summit managed to win support from “key actors” for efforts to end the proxy conflict, nine years after long-term Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was deposed.
He said Germany would support efforts by the United Nations to shore up the tentative truce through a meeting between representatives of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli government, and Hafter.
“For this the persistent pressure of all international partners on the conflict parties is required,” Maas said.
Basic questions about a concrete political process remain unresolved.
The Tunisian president’s office said Maas also stopped in Tunis and told President Kaïs Saied that Germany regretted not inviting Tunisia in time for a representative to attend the Sunday summit and wants to involve Tunisia in Libya peace efforts going forward.


Jerusalem’s Palm Sunday march scaled back due to coronavirus

Updated 31 min 34 sec ago

Jerusalem’s Palm Sunday march scaled back due to coronavirus

  • Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter
  • JERUSALEM: A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was canceled due to restrictions

JERUSALEM: A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was canceled due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The march took place as Israel deployed troops to help contain an outbreak in a hard-hit city. Iran, dealing with the worst outbreak in the Mideast, announced plans to allow some businesses to reopen later this month even as the death toll continued to climb. Lebanon, meanwhile, reopened its airport to allow citizens who had been stranded overseas to return home.
Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Worshipers traditionally carry palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem’s Old City.
While thousands of pilgrims usually participate in the march, this year was limited to a handful of participants. Clerics and faithful went door to door often throwing the branches to Christians looking on from their balconies.
“This year because of the new situation we are trying to come to all the Christians in our Christian Quarter to bring these branches of olives, the sign of new hope,” said the Rev. Sandro Tomasevic, a Catholic clergyman at the Latin Parish of Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church’s most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter.
In Israel, more than 8,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and 46 have died. In the West Bank, nearly 200 cases have been reported, including a large outbreak in the biblical town of Bethlehem.
The outbreak has forced church officials to close churches to the public and scale back religious observances throughout the week. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, held a small, closed service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms. It can cause serious illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health issues.
Iran has been the hardest-hit nation across the region. Iran state TV reported that an additional 151 people had died, pushing the death toll to 3,603 with over 58,000 confirmed cases.
But the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that low-risk businesses will be allowed to resume their activities in Tehran on April 18. Businesses in other provinces will begin a week earlier, on April 11, he said during a meeting Saturday. He said government offices would also be able to boost staffing, from one-third to two-thirds of their work force, beginning April 11.
Rouhani said the decision would not contradict a stay-at-home policy and that businesses must still observe health restrictions ordered by the government. High-risk businesses, like pools, gyms and shopping malls will remain closed, he said.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, a jet carrying more than 70 Lebanese citizens who had been stuck in Saudi Arabia after Beirut’s international airport closed nearly three weeks arrived in Lebanon. It marked the beginning of flights that aim to return thousands of Lebanese from around the world. Three more flights are scheduled to arrive later Sunday from the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The tiny Mediterranean country has reported 520 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths since the first case was reported in late February.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said up to 21,000 people have registered to return home, and the process will take several weeks.
In Israel, the military began an operation in the hard-hit city of Bnei Brak, helping to distribute food and medicine. The government last week put Bnei Brak, home to a large population of ultra-Orthodox religious Jews, under a near closure after an outbreak ravaged the city. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population has been disproportionately infected after religious leaders played down or ignored warnings to maintain social distance early in the crisis. Meanwhile, a nursing home in the southern city of Beersheba reported its sixth death in recent days.