- Associated Press - Friday, January 3, 2020

ANKARA, TurkeyTurkey’s parliament on Thursday authorized the deployment of troops to Libya to support the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli that is battling forces loyal to a rival government seeking to capture the capital.

The deployment scrambles an already chaotic struggle for power in oil-rich Libya, a struggle that has drawn in regional powers as well as Russia and leading European nations. Analysts and U.S. military officials have warned that an implosion in Libya risks providing Islamic State and other jihadist groups a power vacuum in which to regroup and launch operations.

Turkish lawmakers voted 325-184 at an emergency session in favor of a one-year mandate allowing the government to dispatch troops despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate the conflict in Libya and destabilize the region.

The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival regime in the east and forces loyal to commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Mr. Hifter declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital. He has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Mr. Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment after he and Mr. Sarraj signed a deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has led to anger across the region and beyond.

Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.

“A Libya whose legal government is under threat can spread instability to Turkey,” ruling party legislator Ismet Yilmaz argued in defense of the motion. “Those who shy away from taking steps on grounds that there is a risk will throw our children into a greater danger.”

Mr. Erdogan and President Trump held a telephone conversation and discussed the situation in Syria and in Libya, the Turkish president’s office said soon after the vote. A brief statement said they discussed “the importance of diplomacy in solving regional issues.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest language” the Turkish parliament’s authorization to deploy troops, saying Turkey would carry full responsibility for the negative effect it would have on the stability of the Mediterranean region.

Egypt, which neighbors Libya, has backed the insurgent movement in the country’s east, which also enjoys the support of Russia.

The leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus denounced the move as a “dangerous threat to regional stability” and a “dangerous escalation” of the Libyan conflict that violates U.N. resolutions and undermines international peace efforts.

“The repercussions of such a reckless move will be dire for the stability and peace of the entire region,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a joint statement after signing a deal for a pipeline conveying east Mediterranean gas to Europe.

Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party, welcomed parliament’s vote, telling CNN-Turk television the mandate “will ensure that the legal government in Libya remains in place and Turkey’s natural rights [in the Mediterranean] are maintained.”

He added that the mandate does not mean that “troops will be quickly sent tomorrow to conduct operations.”

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would send “the necessary number [of troops] whenever there is a need.” But he also said it would not dispatch forces if Libya’s rival government halts its offensive.

Turkey’s main opposition party, CHP, had vowed to vote against the motion arguing that the deployment would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the further “shedding of Muslim blood.”

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