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Libya unity government to set up joint force to combat IS

Spanish oil giant Repsol ready to resume activity in Libya once the security situation allows it, says Spain's foreign minister
Libyan pro-government forces rest on a tank as they patrol a rural area on the outskirts of the eastern coastal city of Benghazi on 19 April, 2016 (AFP)

Libya's new unity government announced on Thursday plans to establish a joint military command to drive the Islamic State (IS) militant group out of the North African country.

Its presidential council called on "all military forces" in Libya to await instructions after "a joint command" has been formed and not to launch any unilateral offensive on the IS stronghold of Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli.

Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy for Libya, said in a tweet: "I welcome the initiative of #Libya Presidency Council to appoint a military joint leadership for operations" against IS.

The council fears that separate operations in Sirte could spark clashes between the multitude of different fighting forces in Libya and play into the militants' hands.  

IS has transformed Sirte into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants since overrunning slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi's hometown on the Mediterranean last June.

With its port and airport, there are growing fears that IS may use Sirte as a staging post for attacks on European soil.

Repsol to resume Libya activity once security allows

Meanwhile, Spanish oil giant Repsol is ready to resume activity in Libya once the security situation allows it, Spain's foreign minister said on Thursday during a visit to Tripoli.

Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo was in Tripoli to demonstrate Spain's support for a new UN-backed Libyan government.

"Repsol is ready to resume production as soon as an accord is finalised," Garcia-Margallo said during a press conference after meeting the head of the unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj.

Libya's warring rivals have come under intense international pressure to rally behind the unity government at a time when the country is grappling with a growing IS threat.

Prime minister-designate Sarraj's cabinet has taken control of eight government ministries including the foreign affairs ministry as it seeks to assert its authority over the violence-plagued country.

But his government has still not been endorsed by a vote of confidence from one of the rival parliaments, which is based in Tobruk.

Repsol has operated in oil-rich Libya since 1975, and was pumping 340,000 barrels per day before it ceased activity in the country in 2014 due to security concerns. 

Garcia-Margallo said the company would be able to produce 100,000 bpd at the al-Sharara plant in south Libya once the situation stabilised. 

Spain's foreign minister said he and Sarraj discussed "the intensification of cooperation in the fight against illegal migration and against terrorism". 

A host of Western diplomats have been to Tripoli to show support for Sarraj's fledgling administration.

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