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As the violence in Libya grinds on and the two rival governments find little common ground, months of UN efforts to broker talks have been frustrated. Although both are insecure, the competing governments believe they have some advantages that could be lost or degraded by compromise, particularly the challenger in Tripoli. Meanwhile, except for one bright spot, extremists continue to capitalize on the inability of either government to secure the country. Closure between the two is needed, and perhaps targeting Libyan extremists and patching up the oil sector could be used as confidence-building measures to jump start talks.
A series of recent terrorist attacks have hit Western and governmental targets in Tripoli. The city is under the sway of the rump former General National Council (GNC) legislature comprised of Islamist members and backed by the “Libya Dawn” (LD) Islamist militia from Libya’s third largest city, Misrata. A bombing at the Algerian Embassy on Jan. 17 wounded three guards and on Jan. 24 attackers in a car opened fire at Libyan police outside UN offices in Tripoli. In November, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egyptian embassies were bombed. It is unclear who carried out these attacks. All three countries oppose the GNC/LD, but the latter seems to take seriously its responsibility to guard these facilities.
Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel, where GNC Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi resides along with many foreigners still doing business in Libya, was attacked on Jan. 27. Although Hassi and his entourage were elsewhere, the attackers killed five foreigners and four guards. A Tripoli-based Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility, stating the attack was retaliation for the Jan. 2 death of Libyan al-Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Libi, who was in US custody at the time. On Jan. 12, the same IS affiliate said it had taken 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage in GNC/LD territory and bombed a Tripoli foreign ministry building after a senior Tripoli official’s public “Merry Christmas” message on Dec. 24 (Libyan Independence Day).
In the east, where the majority secular House of Representatives (HOR)—elected last June and recognized by the international community—resides in Tobruk (after losing Tripoli), HOR forces under Qadhafi-era General Khalifa Haftar (or Hiftar) have made considerable progress against extremists in Benghazi. HOR troops reportedly have driven the al-Qaeda associated Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) militia out of 90% of the city. ASL confirmed the death of its leader Mohamed al-Zahawi on Jan. 25 from battle wounds received last year in Benghazi. Due to Haftar’s success, the HOR formally recalled him to duty along with dozens of other former army officers working with him.
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