Ankara has always denied that it sends Syrian fighters to fight alongside the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj who also refused to admit that. However, on Friday, Ankara said that it has dispatched Syrian opposition fighters to Tripoli, to fight on the front lines against the Libyan national army.
In a press conference in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Turkey is present there through a force which conducts training operations, and there are also members of the Syrian National Army” referring to the Syrian opposition fighters who are backed by Ankara and used to be called the Free Syrian Army.
Ceasefire negotiations between the Libyan parties have been resumed in the Swiss city of Geneva, according to the U.N. statements released on Friday, which statements confirmed that negotiations were resumed, a few days after the withdrawal of the Accord Government following that shelling which targeted a Turkish ship in Tripoli port, the Libyan army said the ship was loaded with arms. During an interview with official Russian news agency, the Libyan National Army’s commander Khalifa Haftar confirmed that a ceasefire will be possible only if Turkish fighters and Syrian mercenaries stop supporting the Accord Government.
“Any ceasefire will depend on the implementation of several terms: withdrawal of Turkish and Syrian mercenaries, stopping the weapons’ supplies from Turkey to Tripoli, and eliminating terrorist groups in the Libyan capital,” Haftar added.
Erdogan has worked to evacuate the fighters from the Syrian north – which was out of Assad’s control in the past 8 years – by tempting them with high salaries in return for fighting in Libya, which allowed Bashar al-Assad’s forces to take control over dozens of villages and towns within a week of time.
The U.N. has previously confirmed the presence of Syrian fighters in Tripoli, and the UN envoy Ghassan Salama said in an interview with Reuters, on December 18: “I can confirm the arrival of fighters from Syria, and that their number is estimated at 1,000 to 2,000.”
However, Erdogan slammed Haftar and renewed accusations that Russia dispatched to Libya 2500 mercenaries from a private company called Wagner. Moscow denied Erdogan’s allegations.
“There are around 15,000 terrorists who support Haftar, and who is already supported by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates,” Erdogan added according to France 24.
Erdogan pointed out that there are also Sudanese fighters also in Libya, although a U.N. committee said last month there is no credible evidence on semi-military forces that fight alongside Haftar.
In late December, the Libyan National Accord government denied reports that Syrian fighters had arrived in Tripoli from Turkey to support Al-Sarraj government, and this came after footage posted on social media and went viral, showed fighters speaking Syrian dialect and claiming that they came to support their Libyan brothers.
The British newspaper, The Guardian, published a report saying that around 2000 Syrian fighters are active inside units in Libya, the most prominent of which named after the Libyan resistance leader Omar al-Mokhtar. Other sources say that the number of Syrian fighters in Libya is much higher.
Meanwhile, spokesman of the Libyan National Army Ahmed Al-Mismari confirmed that Erdogan aims to send 18,000 personnel. Al-Mismari accused the head of the Presidential Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, of paying a million dollars to each faction leader to send his Syrian fighters to fight in Libya. Many Libyan websites published tweets and footages that show the paths through which fighters enter Libyan territories.
The commander of the Libyan National Army has expressed his willingness to accept a ceasefire provided the withdrawal of the mercenaries sent by Turkey to fight alongside the militias that support the Accord Government, close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Haftar indicated that the Libyan army’s units are fully prepared to counter the Turkish occupation which happens through militias and mercenaries. The army is assessing the current situation in Tripoli, in preparation for all the scenarios, he pointed out.
In statements to Russian news agency, Haftar stressed that the violations carried out by the militias, drive the army leaders out of patience, particularly as the Government of National Accord and its Turkish backer have disclaimed the implementation of the decisions of Berlin’s Conference. Moreover, Hafter accused the head of the National Accord Government “Fayez al-Sarraj” of receiving orders and directions from Turkey and Qatar.
The Libyan military official called on the United Nations, UN Security Council and the states that participated in Berlin’s Conference for Libya to assume their responsibilities in stopping the influx of mercenaries and weapons’ smuggling, which he asserted that they arrive on a daily basis from Turkey to Tripoli, stressing that the world can not remain silent towards all these practices.