Abdur Rahman Khan
The mediterrian country of Libya, badly torn by violence since long-time ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011 by NATO-backed forces.
Libya, an oil-rich Arab nation , in reality already in pieces, eventually found itself with two rival governments . She is now facing the danger of another war involving regional powers and Russia over the control of its resources.
Since 2015, Libya has been divided between the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar whose forces controls oil fields and export facilities mainly located in the eastern territory .
By 2014 Gen Haftar, a former Gaddafi army commander , had emerged as a power in the broken land, expelling radical Islamists from Benghazi, Libya's second city and the capital of Eastern Libya.
Haftar has been backed by powers including Egypt, the UAE and Russia with aircraft, weapons and mercenaries. Haftar forces have been battling since last year to take the capital Tripoli, the capital still under the control of GNA.
Sirte, a coastal city and a gateway to major oil fields about 450km east of Tripoli, was a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) before being taken in 2016 by the GNA. It fell last January into the hands of Haftar's camp.
Fight over Oil resource
The Sharara oil field, which lies about 900 kilometres south of Tripoli, has the capacity to produce 315,000 barrels per day, approximately one-third of the country's crude oil output.
However, it was shut down by Haftar's forces in January, forcing a halt in production and costing the treasury more than $5.2bn.
The NOC is the only entity allowed to export Libyan oil, with all revenues going to the Central Bank in Tripoli, where the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is based.
Following the GNA's capture of the strategic al-Watiya air base in May and city of Tarhouna in early June, and the subsequent withdrawal of Haftar's forces, the NOC announced that production at the Sharara oil field had resumed.
Sharara is run by the Akakus company, a joint venture between Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), Spanish oil giant Repsol, France's Total, Austria's OMV and Norway's Statoil. And here lies the multinational interest.
Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) said on Friday that Russian and other foreign mercenaries entered the southwestern Sharara oil field on Thursday in an attempt to block production there.
Production in Sharara had only this month resumed after months of closure by forces loyal to eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
"We do not need mercenaries from Russia or any other country to enter Libyan oil fields because all they seek is to block oil production," head of the NOC Mustafa Sanallah said.
The war threat
Since the start of June, increased Turkish support has enabled pro-GNA forces to take control of northwest Libya, ending Haftar's assault on Tripoli.
The GNA advance is now halted outside the coastal city of Sirte, a strategic access point to Libya's key oil fields that remain under Haftar's control.
Turkey has forged strong ties with GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj, sending drones and air defence systems that helped him repel Haftar's recent offensive.
Last week, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the GNA demands that Haftar's forces withdraw from the Sirte and Jufra region as pre-conditions for ceasefire talks.
Meanwhile, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said last week that Russian jets were flown to Libya via Syria in May and are being actively used in Jufra and in the vicinity of Sirte.
However, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has warned last week that advances by Turkey-backed Libyan forces on Sirte could prompt an Egyptian military intervention in support of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
Sisi also ordered his army to be ready to carry out any mission inside or outside the country amid tensions over regional rival Turkey's intervention in neighbouring Libya.
Earlier this month, Egypt called for a ceasefire in Libya as part of an initiative that also proposed an elected leadership council for the country.
While the United States, Russia and the UAE welcomed the plan, Turkey dismissed it as an attempt to save Haftar following his battlefield losses.
Sisi said that Egypt did not want to intervene in Libya and generally favoured a political solution, but added that "the situation now is different".
Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, said a ceasefire in Libya would be possible if everybody went back to their positions of 2015, referring to a political agreement reached that year in Morocco. That would mean Haftar withdrawing from Sirte and al-Jufra.
Kalin accused the UAE of "financing this war" in Libya and said its attempts to attack Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for their role in the Arab-Muslim world were “foolish”.
Midle-East experts observe that , a fully consolidated GNA with full sovereignty in Libya and deeper relations with Turkey would certainly pose more of a threat to Sisi’s regime than a divided Libya.
If the GNA maintains a belligerent stance, it will be more inviting for Egypt to act now, rather than wait for Libya to grow into a larger threat. A direct military confrontation in the near future should thus not be ruled out.
Another war looming large over Libya
Abdur Rahman Khan