Greece has closed off its airspace for flights to and from Libya until September amid rumors of a looming NATO operation in the country.
The first country to close its airspace for aircraft departing from Libya was Italy, followed by Malta. They along with Greece have issued relevant NOTAMs.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the Alliance was ready to intervene in the situation in Libya if the country’sUnity government filed a corresponding request.
A notice to airmen (NOTAM) was issued by the Greek authorities on Wednesday, which bans Libyan flights from entering Flight Information Region Athens starting Thursday, the Greek media reported. Similar restrictions were reportedly imposed by Malta and Italy, although they will last till August.
An exception to the rule is made for military aircraft with special authorization, and emergency cases such as evacuations for medical reasons, according to the Kathimerini daily. The newspaper says the decision was made ahead of EU and NATO joint training in the Mediterranean. The Phoenix Express 2016 exercise is scheduled for the summer off the island of Crete.
The explanation, however, doesn’t convince some observers, who believe that the alliance is preparing a new full-fledged military intervention in Libya. The Greek communist party demanded that the government clearly state whether NATO is preparing such an operation and what would the country’s part in it would be.
The party “denounces any intervention in Libya and demands not to take part in the Euro Atlantic plans,” it said in a statement.
Earlier on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance “stood ready” to act on a request of the country’s new reconciliation government. It was formed in a bid to bridge a gap between two rival governments, which had been ruling different parts of the disjointed country for months.
“I spoke recently with [Libyan] Prime Minister Sarraj on how NATO can assist and he will soon send a team of experts to NATO to identify how we can help the new Libyan Government of National Accord,” Stoltenberg said a joint press conference with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
NATO played a key role in 2011 by bombing Libyan government forces and helping armed groups oust and brutally kill strongman Muammar Gaddafi. The intervention, which was based on an overstretched interpretation of a UN mandate to form a no-fly zone in Libya, was hailed as a great success by the victors.
Since then Libya has de facto disintegrated into three historic parts and degraded into a state of constant armed struggle and poverty. It also became a major hub for asylum seekers, trying to reach Italy. Lately the Iraqi-Syrian terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) gained a foothold in eastern coastal part of Libya, slowly gaining control over what is left of the country’s oil exports.
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