Haftar may not attend Palermo summit on Libya

Media reports of Italian PM in Benghazi, his office denies

12 November, 10:06

    (by Luca Mirone). (ANSAmed) - ROME, NOVEMBER 12 - Khalifa Haftar has decided to boycott the Italian-organized conference on Libya in Palermo. Rumors of a quick visit by Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to Benghazi to convince the general to change his mind have been forcefully denied by the prime minister's office. The summit is turning out to be more action-filled than expected, but without the strong man of Cyrenaica, there is the risk of it falling through even before starting.

    Meanwhile, opposition groups are protesting in Rome, accusing the government of making yet another ''bad impression'' and demanding an explanation. A few hours before the works begin, circles within the self-proclaimed Liyan National Army said on Sunday morning that their leader would not be attending the summit because he does not want to sit at the same table as that of representatives from Qatar and a faction, the Libyan Fighting Group, that Haftar claims is ''linked to al-Qaeda''. The rumor could have been a sort of bluff to raise the stakes of the talks. However, later there were signs that the situation was getting worsening. Other sources near Haftar - reported by Libyan media outlet Address Journal and then, via AFP, the Egyptian site Al Ahram and the pan-Arab Al Arabiya - said that the Italian prime minister was planning on flying to Benghazi for a lightening visit to discuss the ''latest developments on the Palermo conference with Haftar. The Italian prime minister's office denied the news, with sources saying that the Italian government does not want to ''interfere between Libyan parties in a clearly domestic issue''. The stakes are too high, though, and the talks to convince the general continue. For weeks Italian diplomacy, as well as its Russian and American counterparts, have sought to convince Haftar to go to the summit. Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero met him in Benghazi and the general himself was received in Rome by Prime Minister Conte. It had seemed that he was willing to attend but then ambiguities began arising, with rumors filtering through the general's entourage about his doubts, especially as about the fact that he believes the conference is too heavily weighted towards the Islamist component inside and outside Libya, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, beginning with the Tripoli representatives. The Muslim Brotherhood component is also hated by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Haftar's main Arab sponsor, and this element may explain why Cairo has not yet made clear at what level Egypt will be represented at the Palermo conference.

    Meanwhile, the first delegations have begun to arrive in Sicily, such as the one from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives led by President Aguila Saleh, and representatives of the High Council of State. Its leader, Khaled Al-Meshri, has called once again for dialogue between the various parties involved as ''the only way to get out of the crisis''. However, whether this dialogue can be held without Haftar, the de facto head of state in the eastern part of the country, is yet to be seen.

    Thus, negotiations to get him to Palermo will continue to the very end. (ANSAmed).

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