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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkish soldiers had begun deploying to Libya after parliament approved such a move last week.

Khalifa Haftar

“Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation centre there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now,” he told CNN Turk broadcaster during an interview.

The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

The Tripoli government has come under sustained attack since military strongman general Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April.

Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar.

Erdogan said Turkey’s objective was “not to fight”, but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy”.

Turkey’s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord made a formal request for military support.

Libya and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in November last year, angering Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region.

‘Call to arms’

Haftar has called on Libyans to take up arms in response to a prospective military intervention from Turkey aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

The beleaguered Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under sustained attack since April by Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) supports a rival administration based in the east of the country.

“We accept the challenge and declare jihad and a call to arms,” said Haftar in a televised address on Friday.

He urged “all Libyans” to bear arms, “men and women, soldiers and civilians, to defend our land and our honour”.

He said it was no longer a question of liberating Tripoli from militias, but of “facing a coloniser”, accusing Ankara of wanting to “regain control of Libya”, a former province of the Ottoman Empire.

AFP/ Al Jazeera

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