The North African oil producer has been gripped by conflict since the ouster of dictator Moammar Gaddafi. In April, Hifter’s forces launched a surprise offensive on Tripoli in an effort to topple the U.N.-installed Government of National Accord.
On Monday, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj signed the cease-fire pact drafted in Moscow. But Hifter, who is aligned with a rival government in eastern Libya, had asked for until Tuesday morning to make his decision, according to Russia’s state-operated Tass news agency. By early Tuesday, however, reports emerged that Hifter had left the country.
It was unclear why Hifter declined to sign the pact. One possible reason was that the deal did not include a deadline for the disbanding of the disparate militias aligned with the GNA, according a Libyan military source cited by the Interfax news agency. Hifter has claimed his offensive on Tripoli is partly to “cleanse” it of the pro-government militias, which he describes as terrorists and criminals.
Nevertheless, European and United Nations officials expressed hope Tuesday that the cease-fire agreement could be salvaged. A Jan. 19 peace summit in Berlin to bring together both sides was still scheduled.
The United Nations mission in Libya on Tuesday urged both sides to adhere to the cease-fire and give diplomatic efforts an opportunity to end the hostilities permanently and return to the political process “for the sake of the civilian population in Tripoli, the hundreds of thousands who fled their homes and the 116,000 children who are unable to go to their classes.”