By Ali Shuaib
August 1, 2014
Developments in Libya have worked in favor of military settlements for the Islamic militias who took over Benghazi and defeated the forces of retired Gen. Khalifa Hifter. Many of Hifter’s soldiers fell during the battles over the past two days.
Concerns about the escalation of violence were reflected in the rapid decisions of Western and Asian countries to withdraw their diplomatic staff and nationals from Libya, thus prompting local observers to rule out any foreign intervention or brokerage between the conflicting parties. Tunisia has insinuated it may close its border with Libya as a result of the increasing influx of refugees.
After the evacuation of most Western diplomats and nationals — the most recent being the French and British — the Czech Republic began to evacuate its diplomats. The Philippines followed, after a Filipino nurse was abducted from a hospital in the Libyan capital and abused for hours.
The Libyan capital, Tripoli, experienced relative calm yesterday, after both parties of the conflict (Islamists and Zintan militia and their supporters) agreed on a truce to allow local firefighters to put out the fire of fuel tanks, which were shelled near Tripoli [International] Airport. Sporadic shelling could be heard far from the region where the tanks were. Meanwhile, a sense that Hifter’s defeat in Benghazi would have a negative effect on his allies in Tripoli prevailed.
The conciliatory calls and attempted brokerage efforts were not enough to end the bloodshed in Benghazi. The Rebels’ Shura Council — composed of several Islamic factions, including Ansar al-Sharia — insisted on pushing forward and confronting Al-Saiqa forces affiliated with Hifter and forcing them to withdraw from their last camp in Benghazi, toward the mountains outside of the city. Al-Saiqa leader Col. Wanis Bou Khamada disappeared, while militia sources announced that he was arrested. Meanwhile, an informed source in Benghazi told Al-Hayat that Hifter left for Egypt “to spend Eid [al-Fitr] with some of his family members there.”
Mohamad Hijazi, Hifter’s spokesman, described the withdrawal of his forces from their camps in Benghazi as a strategic move. However, medical sources, including the Libyan Red Crescent, said that they found at least 75 bodies, mostly soldiers in the National Army faction led by Hifter, whose control was restricted to Tobruk city and some areas in Benghazi.
The Red Crescent found more than 50 bodies inside the camp that was emptied by Al-Saiqa forces. Sources in the city's hospitals reported they had received 25 bodies.
Sources close to Hifter pointed out the weakening of the eastern Libyan tribes as the reason why Hifter’s forces failed to stand their ground. Moreover, the source said that these tribes were mistaken to bet on a call to stop the fighting, launched by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former president of the interim council who was appointed mediator between the fighting parties.
Meanwhile, the recent field developments triggered questions about the fate of the opening session of the elected parliament, which was scheduled to be held in Benghazi on Aug. 4. A group of members of parliament from the east of the country called for an urgent meeting in Tobruk next Saturday [Aug. 2] to discuss the current situation.
The calls for Islamist parties that are participating in the political process to state their position regarding the incidents in the country as a whole, and in Benghazi in particular, grew louder. Political activist Yusuf al-Qamaty told Al-Hayat that the Muslim Brotherhood and the parties close to it should “state their stance regarding the destruction of the project of the state of which they are part, given their participation in the government.”
He also wondered about the reason behind their silence “regarding a project that will obviously become an IS state.” He was making an insinuating reference to the statement of Mohammed al-Zahawi, leader of Ansar al-Sharia, which was disseminated yesterday. The statement seemed to be paving the way for expanding the stretch of the emirate declared by the organization in Darnah.