Libya’s internationally recognised leader on Wednesday dashed hopes of quickly reviving U.N. ceasefire negotiations after his side withdrew, saying talk of them resuming had been overtaken by events as eastern forces continue to shell the capital.
A near year-long battle for control of Tripoli worsened on Tuesday when the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar shelled the city’s sea port for the first time.
The port is a major entry gate for wheat, fuel and food imports but also a supply base for Turkey which has been sending arms, drones, trucks and soldiers to help Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj fend off the LNA, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.
The conflict has cut oil exports by one million barrels a day and could deepen a security vacuum that would be exploited by Islamist militants and human traffickers dispatching migrants by boat to Europe.
The Tripoli government left the ceasefire talks late on Tuesday and a defiant Serraj, visiting the shelled port on Wednesday, rebuffed calls to return immediately to the negotiation table.
“There must first be a strong signal from all international players who are trying to talk to us,” he told reporters, saying this also applied to parallel discussions focused on political and economic issues.
He suggested fighting was likely to continue: “We have an even stronger signal than that, which is defending our people.”
Photographs showed containers in the port with large black holes in them. The National Oil Corporation and United Nations said shells had almost hit a highly explosive gas tanker.
Nearly nine years after rebel fighters backed by NATO air strikes overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya still has no central authority. The streets are controlled by armed factions, with rival governments based in Tripoli and the east.
“We really want a ceasefire and serious negotiations to end the war for the sake of all Libyans,” Jalal al-Bosairi, a 45-year-old businessman, said in a Tripoli cafe.
Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people.