Libyan parties reach deal without Tripoli government
Libyan political leaders reached a new version of a UN-brokered peace deal Saturday, putting pressure on the Tripoli leadership to sign on and build a unity government in hopes of ending the country's chaos.
The Tripoli government took part in earlier stages of talks but refused to participate in the latest discussions in the Moroccan city of Skhirat. Members of Libya's internationally recognised parliament and local and regional leaders initialed the agreement, brokered by UN envoy Bernardino Leon.
Negotiators plan to meet again after Ramadan to work on forming an interim government and finalising a power-sharing agreement, with or without the Tripoli holdouts.
Leon said the door remained open for the Tripoli government to join the accord. Morocco's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday that the main sticking points were over which parties would run which institutions.
Abdul Gader Alhowailly of the Tripoli government said his GNC party met last week and voted against the draft, asking for amendments.
The UN envoy said in a statement that members of militias would be integrated into civilian and military government institutions, and offered job opportunities "for a decent life according to a clear plan and timetable."
The statement promised the full commitment of international community to ensure it is carried out and that it "brings Libya back to the democratic path."
On Saturday medics said that around 19 people were killed and 80 wounded in heavy clashes between Libyan soldiers and Islamist fighters in the eastern city of Benghazi in the past three days.
Forces loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government have been fighting Islamist groups in the country's second-largest city for over a year, part of a wider struggle since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.
Army forces backed by armed residents have regained some of the territory in Benghazi lost last year, but fighters of the Islamist Majlis al-Shura are still present in several districts and the central port area.
There have been heavy clashes for three days in the Lithi district since Islamist fighters holed up there attacked soldiers blocking the main streets into the district, army officials say.
"Special forces, supporting units and youth from the area have stopped a major assault," army special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters. "These are the most violent clashes since fighting started. We still control the main junctions (into Lithi) but have lost soldiers and volunteers during this battle."
He accused Islamic State militants of being behind the assault. The group, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, has built a presence in Benghazi and other parts of lawless Libya.
The Benghazi fighting highlights the chaos in Libya, where armed groups back two governments vying for control. The official prime minister has been based in the east since the capital, Tripoli, was seized by a rival group which set up its own government.
Both sides command loose coalitions of former anti-Gaddafi rebels. After Gaddafi's ouster, the various factions split along political, regional and tribal lines.
Islamic State has exploited the chaos by taking over several towns, killing foreigners and launching attacks against embassies in Tripoli.
Many accuse Western countries of contributing to Libya's turmoil after a NATO-led bombing campaign in 2011, as Arab Spring uprisings swept through the region.