14 August 2019
- UN-brokered ceasefire does not point to increased likelihood of wider peace talks, ensuring Haftar will quickly resume Tripoli offensive
- UN will continue attempts to find diplomatic solution to end conflict, but lack of international pressure means this remains unlikely
- Haftar will be increasingly willing to risk collateral civilian deaths to break deadlock in Tripoli fighting
The UN brokered a 48-hour ceasefire between the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by General Haftar and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) that began on 10 August to coincide with Eid al-Adha celebrations. This followed a car bombing in LNA-controlled Benghazi the same day in which three UN personnel were killed. Separately, on 4 August, at least 45 civilians were killed and dozens wounded in an LNA drone strike that targeted a town hall meeting in Murzuq, South-Western Libya.Haftar began an advance on Tripoli in April, following his successful capture of large swathes of the East and South of the country, but his progress has been stalled by GNA-aligned militias, leading to an intensification of violence in the capital’s southern suburbs. The UN has repeatedly called for a cessation of hostilities since the offensive began, given the risks posed to the capital’s civilian population. The decision to broker this ceasefire reflects this strategy, highlighting the UN’s commitment to seeking a diplomatic resolution to the military impasse.
The UN will have been aware that both the GNA and LNA would likely agree to a ceasefire over Eid al-Adha, to avoid being held responsible for violence during this religiously sensitive period. Both sides will also have accepted a break in hostilities to reinforce their respective positions after months of clashes. Despite agreeing to the temporary ceasefire, however, Haftar will continue to favour a military solution to the Libyan conflict, ensuring a return to fierce fighting is likely now the ceasefire has expired.
Further violence will not be confined solely to Tripoli, however, although this will remain the LNA’s key focus. Indeed, Haftar is aware he lacks the manpower to secure the South at present, and thus needs to maintain the support of Arab tribes against local Tebu and Tuareg communities, who formed an anti-Haftar alliance earlier this year (see our 14 February Report). The drone strike on Murzuq – which specifically targeted the Tebu – will thus have been intended to boost this Arab support, and further similar strikes are therefore likely as the Tripoli advance continues. The strike will also have aimed to undermine GNA Prime Minister Serraj, who appointed a Tuareg, Ali Kanna, as southern military commander earlier this year to better coordinate opposition to the LNA. More attacks are also likely in the East, where jihadists linked to the now-dissolved Benghazi Defence Forces – who likely carried out the 10 August bombing – remain keen to exploit the relative absence of LNA troops in the city to carry out further strikes.
The UN will continue attempts to encourage a halt to fighting and for both sides to reach a negotiated settlement over the coming months. That said, there remains little suggestion that Haftar will agree to talks, the prospect of which will be further undermined by a resumption of fighting after the ceasefire. Indeed, a lack of international pressure on Haftar to end his assault suggests he will be increasingly willing to risk causing collateral civilian deaths to try to break the military deadlock, The GNA, for its part, will look to maintain control of Tripoli, and inspire anti-Haftar sentiment in the South, although the impact of this will be limited, meaning Haftar is unlikely to lose control over key oil infrastructure, at least over the coming
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