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Egypt's Sisi orders army to be ready for missions abroad amid tensions over Libya

Annoucement by Egypt's president comes as Turkey says Haftar's forces must leave key city of Sirte as part of ceasefire
Sisi was touring an air base near Egypt's 1,200km-long western border with Libya when he made the remarks (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has warned that advances by Turkey-backed Libyan forces on Sirte could prompt an Egyptian military intervention in support of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar. 

Sisi on Saturday 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.

He also warned forces loyal to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli not to cross the current frontlines west of Sirte, Reuters reported.

Sisi was touring an air base near Egypt's 1,200km-long western border with Libya, where state TV showed him watching fighter jets and helicopters taking off and checking hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles.

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"Be prepared to carry out any mission, here inside our borders - or if necessary, outside our borders," he told several air force pilots and special forces personnel at the base.

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".

"If some people think that they can cross the Sirte-Jufra frontline, this is a red line for us", he said before an audience that included some Libyan tribal leaders.

"If the Libyan people moved through you and asked us to intervene, this would be a signal to the world that Egypt and Libya are one country, one interest," he added.

He also said Egypt could provide tribes with training and arms to fight the "terrorist militias", a term it uses for some armed groups loyal to the GNA.

Turkey calls for withdrawal

The GNA denounced Sisi's warning, saying any intervention would be a threat to Libya's security.

"We strongly reject what was said by el-Sisi and consider it a continuation of the war on the Libyan people, interference in Libyan affairs and a dangerous threat to national security," said Mohammed Amari Zayed, a member of the GNA's presidential council.

"There can be no 'red line' within our borders. We reject any bid aimed at dividing the Libyan people or their territory... and we categorically reject any bid to impose guardianship on Libya," he added.

Turkey said on Saturday that Haftar's forces in Libya, the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), needed to withdraw from the strategic city of Sirte for a ceasefire agreement to be reached.

Ankara's support for the GNA has turned the tide in the conflict in Libya, which has been mired in fighting between rival groups since a 2011 uprising toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar, a former Gaddafi army commander who is supported by Egypt, has been battling to take the capital Tripoli since last year.

Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, said Turkey supports the GNA position that Sirte and al-Jufra should be evacuated by Haftar's LNA forces for a "sustainable ceasefire".

"It should be a sustainable ceasefire, meaning that the other side, the LNA, should not be in a position to launch another attack on the legitimate Libyan government any time it wants," Kalin told AFP in an interview in Istanbul. 

On Egypt, Kalin said Ankara understands Cairo's "legitimate" security concerns over the Egyptian-Libyan border, but supporting Haftar is a "wrong policy". 

"They should support the GNA, they should support a Libyan-led political process."

No role for Haftar in Libya

Kalin 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.

"This is the position of the GNA and we support it because right now the Haftar forces are using these strategic locations as their launching pad," he said. 

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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.

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.

A high-level Turkish delegation including Kalin, the foreign minister and intelligence chief visited Tripoli on Wednesday. 

Eastern based Haftar - a 76-year-old former Gaddafi loyalist turned defector who spent years living in the United States - has been backed by powers including Egypt, the UAE and Russia with aircraft, weapons and mercenaries.

Turkey sees no role for Haftar in Libya's future. 

"He has been unreliable from the very beginning. He has spoiled every single ceasefire agreement, every attempt at de-escalation and the GNA will not support any talks that involve Haftar," Kalin said. 

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”.  

Asked about Turkey's future in Libya, Kalin said: "We will be there as long as we are requested by the Libyan government to be there."