Faiez Serraj, head of the Libya’s Presidency Council, arrived in Tobruk on Friday, February 19, and addressed the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HOR) on Saturday as the HOR opened debates ahead of vote on his second proposed list of cabinet ministers.
Serraj, the Prime Minister designate of Libya, was tasked with forming a Government of National Accord to reconcile Libya’s rival governments by the December 17, Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco. The agreement was reached after a year of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) mediated negotiations.
The HOR held an extraordinary session on Saturday, which was attended Serraj. The debates and statements have been described by several Libyan media outlets as contentious. The extraordinary session ended without a vote and is due to resume debates on Sunday.
Serraj had asked the HOR for, and been granted, an extension to nominate two new candidates to after two proposed ministers declined their nominations. The HOR granted the delay, and requested that Serraj personally deliver the revised cabinet list by Saturday.
On February 15, Serraj submitted a second proposed government to the Internationally recognized House of Representatives (HOR) in Tobruk. The second list had been slimmed down to thirteen ministers and five ministers of state, after Serraj’s first list had been rejected by the HOR in late January for ostensibly containing too many (thirty two) ministers.
The Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Khemaies Jhinaoui, while speaking at a joint press conference with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Tunis mentioned that Tunisia would soon organize a meeting of Libya’s neighboring countries to “support for the new Libyan government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.”(Faiez Serraj).
Jhinaoui added “We are against any military intervention in Libya that will by no means resolve the crisis.” adding “The information available to us indicates that there are preparations in some Western countries for strikes against terrorist targets in Libya, but no military intervention is planned in a near future.”
The governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a joint statement on February 18, 2016 which called for “Finalizing the Government of National Accord [as] an essential step toward providing the Libyan people the opportunity to rebuild their country and counter the threat posed by Daesh (Islamic State) to their common future.” adding “Members of the House of Representatives now face a solemn responsibility. We urge the House of Representatives to endorse the list of Government of National Accord Cabinet members in its entirety as foreseen in the Libyan Political Agreement.”
The international community, (i.e. the countries which issued the joint statement) have repeatedly stated that the formation of a Government of National Accord is a precursor to any international intervention, which would be conducted at the behest of a Libyan unity government.
On Friday, February 19, the United States conducted airstrikes in the western Libyan city of Sabratha, which targeted Islamic State training camps and Noureddine Chouchane, a.k.a. “Sabir,” a Tunisian believed to have facilitated the movement of foreign fighters to and from the camps. Noureddine Chouchane was wanted by Tunisia in connection with the March 18, 2015 attack on the Bardo National Museum and for injuring a member of Tunisia’s National Guard in a firefight. Sources in Sabratha are reporting that approximately 40 militants were killed. According to those same reports almost all of whom were Tunisian nationals.
Sabratha a UNESCO world heritage site is located in a region of western Libya under the control of the Islamist General National Congress (GNC) in Libya which ousted the HOR from Tripoli in 2014. After the GNC, which was itself elected after the fall of Gaddafi, refused to recognize the results of elections in 2014. The GNC is supported by Turkey and Qatar, while the HOR is supported by the Egyptians and the United Arab Emirates. The conflict between the HOR and GNC has allowed the Islamic State to establish control over the centrally located city of Sirte. Despite the fact that Libya is does not have the same sectarian rifts as Syria or Iraq, Sirte, as Gaddafi’s hometown and the location of his last stand, found itself alienated from both the GNC and HOR.
The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior issued a statement on Saturday, February 20, announcing that National Guard units had arrested, five individuals believed to have received training in militant camps near Sabratha, Libya who had been planning to conduct attacks in Tunisia.
Tunisian security officials believe all three gunmen behind the Bardo and Sousse attacks (Yassine Labidi and Saber Khachnaoui at Bardo, Seifeddine Rezgui at Sousse) had trained in militant camps outside Sabratha. The Islamic State affiliated, Jund al-Khilafah, claimed responsibility for the Bardo and Sousse attacks, and in November Jund al-Khilafah also claimed to be behind the suicide bombing in Tunis which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.
Tunisia recently constructed a 250 km security barrier on the Tunisian Libyan border to prevent returning Tunisian militants from re-entering the country undetected.