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Ankara sends maritime deal with Libya to parliament for approval

The Turkish government has sent to the parliament the text of a military agreement it reached with Libya’s internationally-recognized government for approval, moving closer to military support for the Tripoli-based unity Government of National Accord (GNA).

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two rival governments: the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is commander-in-chief of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), supports the eastern government. In April, he launched an offensive to capture the capital Tripoli and oust the GNA.

Despite intense and deadly clashes between the two sides, Haftar has so far failed to achieve his objective and his offensive stalled outside the capital.

Late last month, Ankara and Tripoli signed an expanded security and military accord and, separately, a memorandum on maritime boundaries that received condemnation from Greece, saying it violates international law.

Late on Saturday, the Turkish government sent the bilateral deal, which provides for a quick reaction force if requested by Tripoli, to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The legislative body is controlled by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and its nationalist MHP allies.

“Parliament will enter it into force after approval,” said Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Sunday.

If the military agreement is approved by lawmakers, the GNA can request vehicles, equipment and weapons for use in army, navy and air operations. It also provisions for new intelligence sharing.

On Thursday, Faraj al-Mahdawi, the Chief of Staff of the LNA navy, said that he had “orders to sink any Turkish research vessel” that would approach the shores of Libya.

“I have an order… as soon as the Turkish research vessels arrive, I will have a solution. I will sink them myself. I have this order from Haftar,” said Mahdawi, who is a keen supporter of Haftar.

Ankara has not yet reacted to these remarks.

Utku Cakirozer, a legislator from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party, and a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said on Sunday that it was “worrying” that Erdogan raised the prospect of dispatching forces and taking sides in Libya’s persisting conflict.

“Turkey should not enter into a new adventure,” he told Reuters, adding, “The AKP government should immediately stop being a party to the war in Libya.”

The maritime deal has angered Greece, which slammed it as an “infringement on its sovereignty” that could complicate Athens’ decades-old disputes with Ankara over Cyprus and maritime rights in the Aegean Sea. Greece has already expelled the Libyan Ambassador to Athens over the deal.

Earlier in the week, Erdogan denounced Greece’s decision to expel the Libyan envoy as an “international scandal” and warned that Athens would “pay the price for its actions internationally.”

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his execution by unruly fighters.

Sarraj’s government has been attempting to establish order ever since.