- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Arab powers made a collective call to militarily confront the Islamic State in Libya on Tuesday, but stopped short of agreeing to conduct airstrikes against the extremists in the North African nation and offered few specifics on what the strategy will entail.

“The situation has become more pressing in the difficult circumstances to speed up putting together an Arab strategy to fight [Islamic State],” stated an official communique issued by the Arab League.

The bloc, whose most powerful nations include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, held an emergency meeting in Cairo Tuesday to weigh a request by Libyan officials for Arab air forces to pound territory held by the extremists in the North African nation.

Libya’s plea came after militants who’ve declared loyalty to the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State — also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh — affirmed control during recent days over the Libyan port city of Sirte on the Mediterranean Sea.

In its statement Tuesday, the Arab League said there “is an urgent need” for a strategy that “includes assisting Libya militarily in confronting Daesh’s terrorism.”

But precisely what such assistance will consist of likely won’t be worked out until the end of August. Arab League nations are slated to meet again on Aug. 27 in Cairo.

The rise of the Islamic State along Libya’s northeastern coast, meanwhile, has drawn increasing concern among European and Arab powers, particularly Egypt, which shares a long and porous border with Libya.

In March, Egyptian fighter jets pounded Islamic State targets in Libya after the group circulated a video showing the beachside beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

While the airstrikes were halted after two days, Cairo is seen to be eager to take the lead on convincing other Arab powers to get behind an expanded air campaign in Libya during the weeks and months ahead.

Analysts say Islamic State-affiliated militants are seizing on instability that has stemmed from the failure of any single group to hold power long enough to form a sustainable government in Libya during the years since the U.S.-backed ouster of former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Apart from Islamic State, the nation has two main rival governments. One recognized by Western nations for pushing an anti-Islamist message is operating from the eastern Libyan town of Tobruk, while the other, pushing an Islamist, but not specifically Islamic State-aligned message, claims control of Tripoli.

U.N. attempts to foster talks between the Tobruk and Tripoli governments have so far proved unsuccessful and disputes between the two — hindering international attempts to build a strategy for fighting the Islamic State across Libya.

It was the Tobruk government that pleaded to the Arab League for support in recent days.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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