Libya’s eastern parliament voted Tuesday to withdraw its support for a United Nations peace deal and Government of National Accord, an escalation in the fractured country’s split that stokes concerns recent violence could intensify.
Abdullah Ablaihig, spokesman for the Tobruk-based, internationally recognized House of Representatives, said the body voted to annul its previous acceptance of a presidential council and the UN-backed government currently led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli.
The decision comes as Libya’s rival power centers are sliding closer to open conflict, with breakaway militias backed by western Libyan factions seizing oil terminals from the east’s strongman general, whose forces have vowed to take them back.
The Tobruk body called on all Libyan parties to condemn militias that occupied the two key terminals in what it described as “terrorist attacks,” saying it was suspending its participation in peace talks until they did so.
The militias, which oppose the parliament, say they intend to take the eastern city of Benghazi and drive Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter from the area. Hifter’s army is allied to the parliament, while the Tripoli government opposes him.
“The GNA unity government is not legitimate any more, as well as its presidential council and anything to do with this entity,” Ablaihig said, urging the international community to lift an embargo on weapons sales to the Libyan army under Hifter.
His forces have deployed more troops in preparation of a counterattack to drive out the militias, known as the Benghazi Defense Brigades, which are comprised of Islamic militants and former rebels recently defeated by Hifter’s forces in Benghazi, Libya’ second largest city. They are also joined by militiamen from the western city of Misrata, and a day earlier announced their intentions from there.
Later in the day, the Tripoli government said that the oil terminals had been abandoned by the Benghazi Defense Brigades and that its forces were moving to occupy the facilities. It denied it had any relationship with the Brigades, saying they were involved in a separate fight with Benghazi that should be negotiated peacefully.
“We officially took control of the oil terminals,” Brig. Gen. Mohamed Algosri told The Associated Press. “Now the forces will be formed and deploy to the oil terminals momentarily.”
The Italian Embassy tweeted its support for the move, describing the deployment as “a step in the right direction” that should end the fighting.
Troops under the command of Hifter who were driven out of the oil facilities said they had redeployed to the east around the town of Brega and had been fighting skirmishes in recent days as they attempted to reconnoiter the opposing lines under air support.
An official at nearby Ajdabiya hospital said seven more of Hifter’s troops were killed in fighting near Ras Lanuf on Tuesday, bringing that side’s total losses to 39 killed over the past four days.
Libya descended into chaos with its 2011 civil war, which ended with the killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and led to the current split.
Western ambassadors have condemned the escalation of violence and called for an immediate cease-fire. Egypt on Tuesday condemned the seizing of the oil installations more singularly, saying that “elements linked to Al-Qaeda” were involved in the attack, which it said posed “serious risks” for Libya.