Libya truce holds amid reports of violations by both sides

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, poses for a photo with Fayez al Sarraj, the head of Libya’s internationally-recognized government on Sunday in Istanbul. The meeting at Dolmabahce Palace took place on the first day of a ceasefire in Libya initiated by Turkey and Russia.

BENGHAZI, Libya — Libya’s rival governments were sticking to an internationally brokered cease-fire that began Sunday, even as immediate reports of violations by both sides raised concerns it might not hold.

The truce, proposed by Russia and Turkey, could be the first break in fighting in months, and the first brokered by international players.

It came as Libya’s civil war was on the brink of a major escalation. Different foreign countries back Libya’s two rival governments, and these outside players have recently been stepping up their involvement in the oil-rich nation’s conflict.

Both Russia and Turkey have been accused of exacerbating the conflict in Libya by sending military aid the warring parties. Meanwhile, Moscow and Ankara have brokered a new truce in Syria, where they also support opposing sides in that country’s conflict.

Fayez al Sarraj, the head of Libya’s internationally-recognized government, was in Istanbul for talks Sunday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In Libya, there’s been a broad diplomatic push to hold a peace summit in Berlin early this year. Calls for direct talks between the Libyan leaders have come from the United Nations, European powers and the rival sides’ allies. The goal would be to end the 7-year civil war and possibly move toward nationwide elections.

But it’s proven difficult to stop the fighting.

“Violations” were reported just minutes after the cease-fire was supposed to start early Sunday, according to Libya’s Tripoli-based government, which is supported by the U.N. The written statement didn’t specify the type of violations.

Meanwhile, the east-based forces led by ex-general Khalifa Hifter said “random” projectiles were also fired at their front lines, according to a top commander. He said the attacks weren’t large enough to warrant a response.

The Associated Press could not verify either sides’ claims. The cease-fire appeared to be holding, if uneasily.

Libya is governed by dueling authorities, one based in the east and the other in the west in Tripoli. Each relies on different militias for support. Both sides have different stipulations in order to halt the wider conflict.

The Tripoli government wants Hifter’s forces to end their siege of the capital. Hifter has been dug in along the city’s southern reaches since April, but his forces have made significant advances in recent weeks. Hifter and his allies want to dissolve the militias fighting to hold Tripoli.

Neither side’s conditions are likely to be met.

“Withdrawal is not on the table,” said Brig. Gen. Khaled al-Mahjoub, the top Hifter commander who spoke with the AP by phone.

Moscow is allegedly deploying Russian mercenaries to fight alongside Hifter’s forces, according to Libya’s U.N.-supported government.

Last week, Erdogan said his country was deploying military units to Libya to reinforce the Tripoli government.

Aguila Saleh, head of the east-based parliament, addressed Egyptian lawmakers in Cairo on Sunday to say that if Turkey sends troops, his government will call on the Egyptian armed forces to intervene in Libya.

The eastern government is supported by France Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries.

Turkey, Italy and Qatar support the Tripoli government.

In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called for an EU peacekeeping force to deploy in Libya in order to enforce any cease-fire agreement.