Monday, November 2, 2015

Nine dead and 35 wounded in attack on Benghazi protest in Libya

The death toll resulting from a mortar attack on demonstrators in Kish Square in Benghazi Libya rose to nine, with another 35 reported injured some seriously.
The demonstration continued even as ambulances removed the dead and wounded. A crowd of up to 2,000 continued to shout against the United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSML) and special envoy Bernardino Leon, whose Libya Political Agreement(LPA) they reject. The group accuses the UN of backing the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism. The crowd demanded a removal of the UN arms embargo which has at least slowed the flow of weapons to Khalifa Haftar, head of the internationally-recognized House or Representatives(HoR) armed forces. He has never stopped his Operation Dignity, intended to drive out Islamists from Libya and that includes the militia of the rival GNC government. The crowd was obviously in support of Haftar. One chant was: “Today, Today, Leon go away”. Police say the mortar rounds were fired from districts of Benghazi still held by Islamic State fighters. Haftar's Operation Dignity began in Benghazi in May of 2014 and he has constantly announced that he is on the point of driving all Islamists out of Benghazi. There are still some areas held by an Islamic Shura Council as well. For a time they held almost all the city, until Haftar went on the offensive. The city is in ruins from shelling and bombings, the latter carried out by Haftar, probably with the help of Egypt.
Hospitals are running out of supplies. The Benghazi Diabetes Diagnosis Center had been operating for 45 years but closed down just this week. The staff blamed the HoR government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni: The staff described the closure as a black day in the history of the center, holding Al-Thanni government responsible for this tragedy. Meanwhile, 15 hospitals and health centers in Benghazi said in a statement they would disown health minister Reda Al-Okali for his inattention and failure to provide appropriate services
The UN immediately issued a statement condemning the Benghazi mortar attack. Ignoring the fact that the protest was against the UN and Leon's attempt to create a unity Government of National Accord, the UN simply continued with their rhetoric about the need for unity: Their best response to the perpetrators of this ugly crime in Benghazi today is by working together to bring peace to Libya. Only through unity can terrorism be confronted and violence brought to an end.Neither the demonstrators nor Haftar want unity or dialogue. They want the defeat of the GNC and its militia. They will use attacks of the Islamic State to argue that the west needs to help them.
So far, most western countries and the UN are supporting Leon's Libya Political Agreement(LPA), but it seems the situation can not continue as it is with neither parliament agreeing to the LPA and many demonstrations against it in the areas of the two rival governments. Leon is nowthreatening sanctions against those he claims are preventing a vote on the LPA in the HoR and also the GNC. No one pays the least attention to these threats. He has been making these threats for almost a year. One set of sanctions against individuals failed to pass through the UN Security Council as there were objections from Russia and China. Haftar and his air force chief were to be sanctioned by the EU but instead Haftar got pledges of support from Egypt, the Arab League and the UAE, and he also negotiated a military agreement with Jordan. Western policy functions only at the level of rhetoric so far. Unless this changes there can be no Government of National Accord.
The latest threat is to deny the HoR recognition since it unilaterally extended its mandate. It is now of doubtful legitimacy. Leon suggested the price of gaining legitimacy would be to sign on to the LPA. However, if it is not legitimate how can its signing on to the LPA be valid? This is just one more threat that works only at the level of rhetoric. So far not a single country has said that it no longer recognized the HoR. Leon is supposed to host more talks next week but this attack has had consequences that make any talks of limited use.
Most of the municipal councils in Cyrenaica, the part of eastern Libya run by the HoR, announced that they would no longer participate in the UN-sponsored dialogue that is scheduled to begin again in Skhirat Morocco next Tuesday. The HoR had already announced that they were planning to change their negotiating team. The pro-HoR Libya Herald suggests it is unlikely that they will approve a new team before that time. Even if they do approve a new team it may be filled with hardliners to ensure that the negotiations do not agree to something that the HoR will later reject.


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