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Libya players agree cease-fire amid warnings war may become 'next Syria'

Libya has sunk further into chaos since the 2011 ouster and killing of its longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.
Image: Libya summit in Berlin
World leaders pose for a family photo during the Libya summit in Berlin on Sunday. Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters

BERLIN — International powers with conflicting interests in Libya’s civil war have called for a cease-fire and agreed to respect a much-violated arms embargo in an effort to end the country’s long-running conflict.

The agreement comes after a warning that the conflict that has spiraled into a proxy war risks becoming the "next Syria."

The agreement on Sunday came after about four hours of talks in Berlin where German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted leaders of 11 countries, with Libya’s two main rival leaders also in the German capital but not at the main conference table.

Merkel told reporters that powers had agreed that a tentative truce in Tripoli over the past week should be turned into a permanent ceasefire to allow a political process to take place. A special committee made up of five military officials from each side will monitor the truce, she said.

Image: Berlin Hosts U.N. Libya Conference
U.N. Special Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attend a press conference in Berlin on Sunday. Pool / Getty Images

Libya has sunk further into chaos since the 2011 ouster and killing of its longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. It is now divided into rival administrations, each backed by different nations: The U.N.-recognized government based in Tripoli in the west, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and one based in the country's east, supported by Gen. Khalifa Hifter's forces.

The two rival leaders did not meet in Berlin, Merkel said, highlighting the gulf between the two.

"We know that we have not solved all of Libya's problems today but we were aiming for fresh momentum," said Merkel.

Hifter’s forces have been on the offensive since April, laying siege to Tripoli in an effort to capture the capital. They are backed by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, while the Tripoli government has relied upon Turkey for troops and weapons, turning the conflict into a proxy war.

More than 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting for the capital.

Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that the war risked descending into a conflict like Syria, which has embroiled regional and world powers, killed at least 560,000 people and displaced more than 12 million.

"If the developments in Libya are left to continue, then Libya will become the next Syria and we do not want to let that happen," he said.

A truce brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey marked the first break in fighting in months, but there have been repeated violations. Although there has been a lull in air strikes and less fighting over the past 10 days, heavy exchanges of artillery fire could be heard from some front lines south of Tripoli late on Sunday, residents said.

The conference on Sunday was also overshadowed by blockades of oil fields by forces loyal to commander Hifter that threaten to cripple the country's crude production.

The general quit a Turkish-Russian summit a week ago and escalated the conflict on Friday when eastern oil ports were shut down. Libya's National Oil Corporation said the shutdown was directly ordered by Hifter's forces and that major southwestern fields were also closing after his forces shut a pipeline.

The closures will cut the country’s output to 72,000 barrels a day from 1.2 million in just a few days' time unless the blockages are lifted, the corporation said. Any lasting closure could hit Tripoli hard since the government relies on oil revenues to fund its budget.