Mohammed El-Sheikhy / AP

Libya's Western-backed party pulls out of UN talks

Government based in country's east abandons talks, casting fate of UN-sponsored negotiations into question

Libya's Western-backed elected parliament voted Monday to suspend its participation in a U.N.-sponsored dialogue between rival parties who have been vying for control of the country since ex-dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011.

The United Nations had been planning to hold a new round of talks in Morocco this week, the latest attempt to defuse a violent power struggle threatening to break up the oil-rich North African country.

The effort comes amid heightened regional tensions over Libya, punctuated by an Egyptian airstrike on an Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliate group after it claimed responsibility for beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in a graphic video.

Farraj Hashem, spokesman of the House of Representatives, cited a double suicide bombing claimed by ISIL in the eastern town of Qubbah on Friday, which killed 45 people, as a reason for the suspension: "The other side did not condemn the Qubbah blast and does not acknowledge the terrorism on its land."

He also said the dialogue lacked any "vision."

Libya’s elected assembly has been based in the east since a faction called Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli in August, reinstating the previous assembly and installing a rival government there.

The U.N. has been trying to form a unity government to end Libya's deep political rift, but opposition to the talks has been building in the east. Some lawmakers have accused Libya Dawn of having ties to ISIL, a charge it has vehemently denied.

On Friday, several hundred protesters in the main eastern city, Benghazi, demanded an end to the talks, burning the flags of the U.S. and United Kingdom, and accusing them of backing extremist groups.

Each side in Libya’s divide encompasses a variety of political and business leaders as well as armed groups — unsurprising in a country left without effective national institutions by Gaddafi’s 42 years of authoritarian rule.

The other rival assembly, the General National Congress in Tripoli, said it was willing to continue the dialogue, which started in September in the southern Libyan city of Ghadames, a lawmaker who asked not to be named told Reuters.

Each side is backed by an array of militias that helped to oust Gaddafi in 2011 but have since turned against one another in a complex scramble for power.

Civilians in 'mortal danger'

Also Monday, rights group Amnesty International said the Egyptian military failed to take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties during its airstrikes last week against what Cairo said were “terrorist” targets in Libya.

Egypt launched the strikes following the beheadings of its 21 citizens, who were migrant workers in Libya, by fighters affiliated with ISIL. The armed group, which controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, has more recently gained a small foothold amid the power vacuum of post-Gaddafi Libya.

ISIL’s branch in Libya retaliated for the strikes, killing at least 40 people in a string of suicide bombings in eastern Libya on Friday.

Amnesty said in a statement released Monday that as the chaos in oil-rich Libya escalates, civilians increasingly bear the brunt of the violence, raising the prospects that war crimes are being committed amid retaliatory attacks by all sides.

"Civilians in Libya are in mortal danger as retaliatory attacks by all sides spiral even further out of control," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "Attacks which do not discriminate between civilians and fighters are war crimes."

In a statement aired late Sunday, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said his military had to avenge the death of the Christians.

"We hit 13 targets. They were carefully studied and there was precise reconnaissance ... so that no one thinks we are carrying out hostile acts against civilians," Sisi said.

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