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Erdogan says Turkish military units moving to Libya “right now”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on January 5 that Turkish military units had started moving to Libya.

They would support Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, he said.

Turkey’s parliament on January 2 approved a bill permitting the deployment of troops in Libya to protect Ankara’s interests in North Africa and the Mediterranean and to help achieve peace and stability in Libya.

“There will be an operation centre [in Libya], there will be a Turkish lieutenant general leading and they will be managing the situation over there. [Turkish soldiers] are gradually moving there right now,” Erdogan said in an interview with CNN Turk.

The GNA requested Turkish support last month. It is facing an offensive by forces of General Khalifa Haftar, which are backed by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. An  unknown number of Russian mercenaries are reportedly present in support of Haftar.

Erdogan also said that Turkey and Libya could work with international companies to search for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara and the Tripoli-based government have struck a deal on maritime borders. However, it has been described as illegal by Greece, which says it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete.

In November, the GNA and Turkey made a deal on drilling for natural gas. Ankara said the step was aimed at defending its rights in the region.

Turkey, which has no substantial hydrocarbon resources, is displeased at gas and oil cooperation between Eastern Mediterranean countries that does not include it.

Last week, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended an Athens signing ceremony for an accord to construct the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas pipeline.

The 1,900-kilometer (1,181 miles) link will connect recently discovered, and to-be-found, gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean basin with European markets through Cyprus, Greece and Italy. The project is being developed by IGI Poseidon, a joint venture of Greece’s state-owned supplier Depa SA and Edison SpA. Italy is set to sign the agreement at a later date.

Israel’s pipeline cooperation with Cyprus and Greece “adds to security and prosperity in the region” and “we are not turning against any other country,” Netanyahu said.

The deal allows for other countries to join the project, Anastasiades noted.

EastMed is not intended to send a message to Turkey, but to promote cooperation in the energy sector at a regional level, Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said on December 24.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made clear American backing for the pipeline when he attended a Cyprus-Greece-Israel trilateral summit in Jerusalem in March.