, Egypt, Feb 17 – Egypt called Tuesday for a UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets in the country following the jihadists’ beheadings of Egyptian Christians.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya, in an interview aired by France’s Europe 1 radio.
Egypt’s top diplomat was in New York to secure backing for military intervention from UN Security Council members and to demand “full support” against the jihadists, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The diplomatic push comes a day after Egyptian F-16 jets bombed militant bases in Derna and on the February 17 anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 NATO-backed Libyan revolt that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The air raids were ordered hours after IS militants in Libya released a gruesome video showing the beheadings 21 Egyptian Christians who had travelled there seeking work.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians remain in Libya and their government was encouraging them to leave the country, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told reporters.
Libya has been gripped by turmoil since the revolt and Egyptian officials have long said that the NATO intervention to help the anti-Kadhafi rebels left Egypt to contend with chaos on its western border.
– Libya mission ‘not finished’ –
“The mission was not finished,” Abdelatty said.
France, which on Monday agreed to sell Egypt advanced Rafale fighter jets, has called with Cairo on the United Nations to adopt “measures” to confront the jihadists in Libya.
Italy, the former colonial power in Libya and lying across the Mediterranean, ruled out an intervention without UN backing and suggested a political solution remained the best option.
“What is happening is very complicated. We are following events closely and with concern but there is no need to jump from total indifference to hysteria and an unreasonable reaction,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in an interview with TG5 television.
The European Union said it will meet with the Egyptian and US governments this week to discuss joint action on Libya, but that it saw no role in any military intervention for now.
Chaos in Libya has seen rival governments and powerful militias battling for control of key cities and the country’s oil riches, providing fertile ground for IS.
Several Libyan jihadists groups have pledged allegiance to IS, which last year seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities.
Delegates from Libya’s rival parliaments held UN-mediated indirect talks earlier this month that were described by the UN as “positive”.
But Egypt says it would be naive to hope for a political settlement in the near term, insisting that militants must be confronted with force.
“There are terrorist organisations in Libya that are not abiding by their commitments, they are not serious about dialogue,” said Abdelatty, the foreign ministry spokesman.
Monday’s air strikes were the first time Egypt announced military action against jihadist targets in Libya. Last year Cairo reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its bases to bomb militants there.
Experts say Sisi wants to be seen as a key ally of the West against Islamist extremism, deflecting international criticism of his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood of former president Mohamed Morsi, who Sisi ousted in 2013.
As well as Libya to the west, Egypt is dealing with an insurgency to the east in its Sinai Peninsula, where jihadists have also joined IS and scores of troops have been killed.
Abdelatty said it was time for the international effort against IS — which has been hammered by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria — to focus on its presence elsewhere.
“Just as there is movement against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, we want the world to turn its attention to Libya,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for group.