By Alessandra Bocchi.
Tunis, 17 January 2016:
The military authorities in eastern Libya have rejected an offer of humanitarian aid from Italy. An spokesman for the Libyan National Army (LNA) is reported to have said that no help from Italy would be accepted until Italian troops left Libya.
The only Italian forces known to be in the country at present are those protecting the field hospital set up in Misrata to treat troops wounded in the fight in Sirte against the so-called Islamic State. There are thought to be around 200 of them.
The rejection followed a statement from Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano that Italy would organise urgent humanitarian aid for Libyans in the east of the country. He was speaking on the sidelines of the Middle East peace conference in Paris about Russia’s growing involvement with eastern military leader Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Accusing Russia of expansionist aims, he said that Italy had to act by “using all the means we have to create a dialogue in the East”.
Italian officials have been dismissive of the rejection.
According to one, the LNA’s refusal of humanitarian aid was based on false premises and manipulative. The official also stated that last month Ali Gatrani, the boycotting member from eastern Libya who is very close to Khalifa Hafter, agreed that Italy should provide help to injured Libyans in the east of the country.
That, though, was before Italy announced the reopening of its embassy in Tripoli which Hafter, the Beida-based interim government and House of Representatives president Ageela Saleh all oppose, seeing it as a firm statement of support for the rival Presidency Council. Three days ago, in a very public display of its annoyance with Italy, the Beida government accused the Italian navy of entering Libyan waters and violating the country’s sovereignty.
Since the revolution, Italy has regularly sent supplies of emergency medical aid for the west, east and south of the country.
While firmly backing the Libyan Political Agreement, Italy was one of its first western supporters to say that a role for Hafter had to be found as part of a new Libyan government. Alfano has also week said that Italy made no distinction between any part of Libya. The country had to remain united, he said.