Turkey Mulls Sending Troops to Libya

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey's president said Thursday that the U.N.-supported government in Libya has asked Ankara to send troops to help authorities in Tripoli defend the city from an offensive by rival forces.

Turkish lawmakers could vote as early as next week on the move, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that his government will submit a bill to allow for the deployment of Turkish forces to Libya.

Speaking to his ruling party's officials, Erdogan said the Tripoli government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj "invited" Turkey to send troops under a military cooperation agreement signed recently between the two. Ankara and Tripoli have also signed a maritime deal; both agreements have met with criticism across the region and beyond.

Sarraj's administration has faced an offensive since April by the rival government based in eastern Libya and forces loyal to commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is trying to take Tripoli.

"We will go to places where we are invited to, and not go to places we are not invited to," Erdogans aid. "At the moment, since there is such an invitation, we will accept this invitation,."

"We will give the administration in Tripoli every kind of support against the coup-plotting general who is supported by various European and Arab countries," Erdogan added, referring to Hifter. "We are siding with Libya's legal government."

Erdogan said the bill could be taken up by lawmakers on Jan. 8 or Jan. 9, as soon as parliament reconvenes from a recess. Erdogan's ruling party holds a majority in parliament, which signals the bill will easily pass in the house.

In related developments, a monitoring group that tracks Syria's civil war said Thursday that Turkey-backed Syrian rebels have opened four recruitment centers in northern Aleppo province for volunteer fighters for Libya. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the volunteers would be dispatched to Libya through Turkey and earn a lucrative monthly salary of about $1,800 to $2,000. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Libya is divided between the two administrations, Sarraj's in Tripoli and the east-based government, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments.

The fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Hifter declared a "final" and decisive battle for the capital. Hifter is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Also Thursday, Hifter's forces resumed their shelling of the town of Misrata, to the west of Tripoli and a stronghold of a powerful militia that has been defending the capital on behalf of Sarraj's government. Last week, Hifter's forces had given the militia a deadline, which ended Wednesday, to pull out of Tripoli or face "unprecedented" shelling of their town.

Meanwhile, the U.N office in Libya condemned the targeting of civilians in the fighting over Tripoli, saying that five civilians were killed on Tuesday in "indiscriminate shelling" of Tripoli's neighborhood of Tajoura.

The battle over Tripoli has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence, the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.