Libya’s warring sides have proposed a draft ceasefire agreement that would see the United Nations monitor the safe return of civilians to their homes, the UN said Monday.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said it would facilitate the ceasefire process alongside a military commission with members from both sides.
The announcement came after a second round of indirect military talks in Geneva between Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
The talks, mediated by UN envoy Ghassan Salame, are aimed at brokering lasting ceasefire to fighting that has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced some 140,000 since last April, according to the UN.
Several rounds of talks focused on economic issues, including fairer distribution of Libya’s oil wealth, have also taken place in Egypt and Tunisia, and talks towards a political solution are scheduled to start in Geneva on Wednesday.
UNSMIL said it and the two parties had “prepared a draft ceasefire agreement to facilitate the safe return of civilians to their areas with the implementation of a joint monitoring mechanism”.
“The two parties agreed to present the draft agreement to their respective leaderships for further consultations and to meet again next month,” the statement said.
The next meeting would be dedicated to drawing up terms of reference for the committee in charge of the implementation of the agreement, it said.
Libya has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival armed factions still vying for power.
In the latest outbreak of fighting, Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli last April but after rapid advances his forces stalled on the edges of the capital.
The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief ceasefire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead”, citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to jihadists — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.
The heads of Libya’s warring sides were to meet in Moscow on Monday to sign a ceasefire deal ending nine months of heavy fighting.
The meeting follows a diplomatic push by Turkey and Russia, which is keen to bolster its status as a powerbroker in the Middle East and step into a diplomatic void left by what observers see as a partial US retreat.
The two sides are expected to sign an agreement on the terms of a ceasefire that took effect over the weekend, raising hopes of an end to the fighting that has wracked the oil-rich North African country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country.
Haftar and Sarraj were to meet in Moscow for talks along with “representatives of other Libyan sides”, the Russian foreign ministry said, with Turkey and Russia’s foreign and defence ministers acting as mediators.
Russian news agencies reported representatives of the two sides had arrived for talks, but it was unclear if Haftar and Sarraj would meet face-to-face.
The ceasefire initiative was launched by President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who jointly called for a truce in Istanbul last week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Putin on Saturday and he supported her drive to hold a peace conference sponsored by the United Nations in Berlin soon.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was also due in Turkey on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with Erdogan.
‘Turn page on past’
Sarraj on Monday called on Libyans to “turn the page on the past, reject discord and to close ranks to move towards stability and peace”.
His comments came after a ceasefire began at midnight on Sunday (2200 GMT on Saturday) in line with Putin and Erdogan’s joint call.
Sarraj confirmed the ceasefire had taken effect.
Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations.
Turkey and Russia’s diplomatic offensive came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides.
Ankara dispatched troops — in a training capacity, it said — to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by leading European powers including Britain and France and US President Donald Trump.
Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all regional rivals of Turkey.
Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar but Putin said on Saturday that any Russians in the country were not in Moscow’s pay.
The head of Libya’s High Council of State, Khaled al-Mechri, said the ceasefire would pave the way for the revival of the political process.
The head of Russia’s contact group to Tripoli, Lev Dengov, said the two rivals would have to determine in the Russian capital “the terms of the future settlement in Libya, including the possibility of signing an agreement on the ceasefire and its details”.
“They will have separate meetings with Russian officials and emissaries of the Turkish delegation, which is cooperating with Russia on this issue,” said Dengov, quoted by Russian news agencies.
“Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will probably be present as observers at the talks.”
Europe and North Africa have also launched a diplomatic offensive to try to prevent Libya, with the increased involvement of international players in its conflict, from turning into a “second Syria”.
European governments, including former colonial power Italy, fear that Islamist militants and migrant smugglers, already highly active in Libya, will take further advantage of the chaos.
King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday warned that thousands of fighters have left Syria for Libya and “that is something we in the region but also our European friends will have to address in 2020”.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for early elections after a sharp disagreement over a Gaza ceasefire deal, throwing the government into turmoil.
Lieberman also said his party was quitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a one-seat majority in parliament.
Elections are not due until November 2019, but Lieberman’s resignation increases the likelihood of an earlier vote.
“What happened yesterday — the truce combined with the process with Hamas — is capitulating to terror,” Lieberman told journalists in explaining his reasons for resigning.
“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”
He added later: “We should agree on a date for elections as early as possible.”
Netanyahu has defended Tuesday’s ceasefire deal that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.
An official from Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said the prime minister would take charge of Lieberman’s portfolio at least temporarily.
“There’s no obligation to go to an election in this time of security sensitivity,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
A Likud spokesman said later in the day that Netanyahu had begun consultations with heads of parties in his coalition to stabilise it.
The party of far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival, was threatening to withdraw from the coalition if he was not given the defence portfolio.
‘Begged for ceasefire’
Lieberman, a security hardliner, heads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which holds five seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.
Before taking over as defence minister, he said he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war “or you’re dead”.
He later backed off and said he was committed to “responsible, reasonable policy”.
The ceasefire held on Wednesday, but Netanyahu was seeking to combat criticism of the decision.
Beyond Lieberman’s resignation, several hundred Israelis living near the border with Gaza protested on Tuesday night to call for further action against its Islamist rulers Hamas.
Netanyahu defended his strategy and said: “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire.
“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony on Wednesday.
Hamas portrayed the ceasefire as a victory and thousands of residents of the blockaded enclave took to the streets late Tuesday to celebrate.
On Wednesday, Gazan demonstrators burned pictures of Lieberman and sweets were handed out in the streets, while Hamas called his resignation a “victory.”
The Egyptian-brokered truce was announced by Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, on Tuesday.
A diplomatic source familiar with the agreement said it involved returning to arrangements put in place following the 2014 war, but warned: “The situation remains very precarious and can blow up again.
“What we have seen in the past 48 hours was very dangerous and no efforts should be spared to avoid similar flare-ups.”
Blown covert operation
The violence saw seven Gazans killed in 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings, sending fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky.
Sirens wailed in southern Israel as militants unleashed barrages of rocket and mortar fire, sending residents rushing to shelters.
Around 460 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel, the most ever in such a brief time period, the army said.
An anti-tank missile hit a bus near the Gaza border that Hamas says was being used by Israel’s army. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded.
In all, some 27 Israelis were wounded, three of them severely.
A Palestinian labourer from the occupied West Bank was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
The violence had begun on Sunday with a botched Israeli special forces operating inside the Gaza Strip that turned deadly and prompted Hamas to vow revenge.
The clash that resulted from the blown operation killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local Hamas military commander, as well as an Israeli army officer.
This week’s escalation came despite Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to transfer millions of dollars in aid to Gaza for salaries as well as fuel to ease a chronic electricity shortage.
The agreements had led to calmer protests along the border after months of deadly unrest.
But those cash transfers also drew criticism from Netanyahu’s own government, and Lieberman slammed them in announcing his resignation.
Turkey on Tuesday called on Israel to “immediately stop” strikes against the Gaza Strip, urging the international community to act as the escalation in violence threatened to descend into full-blown conflict.
“Israel must immediately stop its attacks against the Gaza population,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.
“The international community, which stays silent in the face of Israel’s attacks, must take responsibility and take action,” he added.
Barrages of rocket and mortar fire into Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza this week have threatened a new war between the two sides.
Six Palestinians were killed in less than 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants, while dozens of residents were injured in Israel following rockets and mortar rounds from the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian living in southern Israel was also killed.
The escalation, triggered by a secret operation by Israeli special forces which went awry on Sunday, came after months of tension with growing fears of a fourth conflict in 10 years between Israel and Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip.
As an unwavering supporter of Palestinians, Ankara often criticises Israeli policy, although relations improved between Turkey and Israel in 2016 after a diplomatic crisis that lasted several years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday demanded a “total” ceasefire from Gaza’s Hamas rulers in his first public comments on another deadly flare-up between the two sides.
There have been efforts by UN officials and Egypt to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, though Israeli officials have not commented on them.
Since July, there have been three major flare-ups of violence.
“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting. “It will not end with one blow.
“Our demand is clear: a total ceasefire. We shall not be satisfied with less than that,” he added.
“Until now we have destroyed hundreds of Hamas military targets and with every round of attacks the Israel Defence Forces exact another heavy price from Hamas.”
Netanyahu has come under political pressure to act more strongly against Hamas, though both sides are reluctant to start a fourth war between them since 2008.
Israel has also sought an end to kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the Gaza border fence to burn Israeli farmland.
An informal truce reached on Thursday night has largely held despite the deaths of three Palestinians since then from Israeli army fire during border protests and clashes.
Thursday saw extensive Israeli air strikes in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies beginning on Wednesday night.
Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters.
It was one of the most serious escalations since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of rising tensions.
At least 168 Palestinians have been killed since Gaza border protests and clashes began on March 30, with most succumbing to Israeli fire during demonstrations. Others have died in air strikes.
Over the same period, one Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
Afghan security forces resumed offensive operations on Saturday after President Ashraf Ghani declared an end to the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban.
Ghani said the ceasefire, which lasted 18 days after it was extended once and overlapped with the Taliban’s unilateral three-day truce for Eid, had been “98 percent successful”.
“The ceasefire is over. The Afghan security and defence forces are allowed to restart their military operations,” Ghani told reporters.
The three days of no fighting were unprecedented in the nearly 17-year conflict and triggered jubilant scenes across the war-weary country.
Taliban fighters and security forces spontaneously celebrated the holiday that caps the holy month of Ramadan, hugging each other and taking selfies.
The militants were also mobbed by relieved civilians, who have borne the brunt of the war, raising hopes of a renewed push for peace talks.
Ghani said the ceasefire had shown that the majority of the insurgents wanted peace and it was the “Taliban’s turn to give a positive response”.
“I am ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban are ready,” he said at a press conference.
But the sight of its fighters openly mingling with security forces and civilians over Eid appeared to alarm the Taliban’s leaders, who on Sunday ordered their men back to their posts.
The Taliban vowed Tuesday to continue their bloody fight against the government and their foreign backers, brushing aside rising civilian casualties.
The insurgents returned to the battlefield last week after refusing a government request to extend their ceasefire, launching attacks across the country that have seen scores killed or injured.
The renewed violence has poured cold water on hopes the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks, with the Taliban refusing to bow to pressure to lay down their arms until foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
The truces did not extend to the Islamic State group, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, and launched two deadly attacks on ceasefire revellers during Eid.
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Afghan Taliban, security forces, and civilians celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire in the war-torn country on Saturday, killing at least 20 people, officials said.
At least 16 others were wounded in the attack in Rodat district in eastern Nangarhar province, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
Afghans greeted the beginning of Eid with prayers on Friday as the Muslim holiday dawned in peace for the first time since the 2001 US-led invasion, after the Taliban agreed to an unprecedented ceasefire.
Flocking to mosques for special morning worship marking the first day of the festival, youngsters in the war-battered country expressed cautious optimism, following the suspension of fighting between Afghan security forces and the militants.
“On almost every Eid we have had attacks — this is a rare Eid without violence,” Samiullah, 17, who is almost the same age as the conflict, told AFP after prayers at the Shah-e Do Shamshira mosque in central Kabul.
“We are hopeful peace will come to Afghanistan.”
Fourteen-year-old Sohrab Ahmad, who earns money polishing shoes outside the mosque, said he could not remember an Eid without fighting.
“I believe there will be peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” he said.
But not everyone was so hopeful.
“I don’t think there will be peace in Afghanistan. We are seeing an increase in attacks on a daily basis,” Imran, 13, told AFP.
Defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP there had been no reports of Taliban attacks on Afghan forces since the start of the holiday.
President Ashraf Ghani announced last week that police and troops would cease operations against the Taliban for eight days, starting Tuesday — though he warned that operations against other groups, including the Islamic State group, would continue.
The Taliban said Saturday their fighters would stop attacking Afghan security forces for the first three days of Eid, the first time the Taliban had declared a nationwide ceasefire in the nearly 17-year conflict.
They said they would continue attacking US-led NATO troops.
Muslims across the world also celebrated Eid al-Fitr, one of Islam’s most significant holidays, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is typically celebrated by feasting and gift-giving.
In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, young people treated themselves to elaborate haircuts, in a modern interpretation of the tradition of dressing up for the festival.
Tens of millions of people across Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, celebrated Eid with special prayers at mosques and in public spaces, including a large gathering in front of the Bajra Sandhi monument on the predominantly Hindu island Bali.
Elsewhere, hundreds of devotees — many dressed in white and wearing skull caps — turned out for prayers in front of the multi-domed Baiturrahman mosque in the Sumatran city of Banda Aceh.
Others knelt for morning prayers in the shadow of one of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Sinabung, which has been rumbling since 2010.
Israel denied it has agreed to a ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza as claimed by Hamas after the worst military flare-up since a 2014 war, but calm returned Wednesday and there were signs the latest crisis may be ending.
The exchange of fire on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday had raised the possibility of yet another war in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave run by the Islamist movement Hamas, which would be the fourth since 2008.
Israel said it targeted some 65 militant sites in the Gaza Strip. It also said around 100 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza either exploded in Israel or were intercepted by air defences.
Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one moderately and two lightly, the military said. There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.
Late Tuesday, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said a ceasefire had been reached, and on Wednesday senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya also spoke of an accord.
Calm returned to the Gaza Strip and nearby Israeli communities on Wednesday.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz denied talk of a deal, though a senior defence official reportedly said Israel would refrain from further strikes if there was no more fire from Gaza.
“Israel does not want the situation to deteriorate, but those who started the violence must stop it,” Katz told Israeli public radio.
“Israel will make (Hamas) pay for all fire against Israel.”
‘Should be outraged’
Tuesday’s violence followed weeks of deadly unrest along the border between Israel and the blockaded Palestinian enclave.
In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared shared responsibility for the rocket and mortar fire, saying it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions.
Three Islamic Jihad members were killed in an Israeli strike Sunday, and the group vowed revenge. Islamic Jihad is the second-largest armed group in Gaza after Hamas.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the violence, following a US request for an urgent meeting.
“The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians,” US ambassador Nikki Haley said.
Kuwait, a non-permanent council member representing Arab countries, circulated a draft resolution calling “for the consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population”.
Early Tuesday, some 28 mortar shells were fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Israel said most were intercepted by its air defence systems but put residents in the area on high alert, ordering them to stay within 15 seconds of shelters.
One mortar shell exploded near a kindergarten building, a military spokesman said, damaging the structure. No children were present at the time.
It was the largest barrage fired from Gaza into Israel since a 2014 war and led to Israel’s biggest response since then.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed Tuesday to “respond to these attacks powerfully”.
Shortly after he spoke, Israel’s military began air strikes. Explosions shook the Palestinian enclave and smoke rose from the sites hit.
Later in the day, further rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza were intercepted or exploded in Israel, the army said.
It said some of the mortars fired were supplied by Iran.
On Tuesday night, a rocket hit an Israeli home near the Gaza border, but no one was hurt, the military said.
‘Any upcoming escalation’
Israel’s military said it hit “military targets” including a tunnel stretching into its territory, weapons stores and militant bases.
Hamas said in a statement Tuesday that “what the resistance carried out this morning comes within the framework of the natural right to defend our people”.
Tuesday’s incidents followed weeks of deadly demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, beginning on March 30.
The protests demanded that Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation be allowed to return to their former homes, now inside Israel.
They peaked on May 14, when at least 61 Palestinians were killed in clashes as tens of thousands of Gazans protested the US transfer of its embassy in Israel to the disputed city of Jerusalem the same day.
Low-level demonstrations and clashes have continued since.
At least 122 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the unrest. No Israelis have been killed.
Israel says its actions are necessary to defend its borders, accusing Hamas of encouraging thousands of Palestinians to break through the border and attack Israelis.
But Israel has faced international criticism and calls for an independent investigation over its use of live fire during the protests and border clashes.