Two days after the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) will resume ceasefire negotiations, GNA forces captured Wednesday the Tripoli airport, which has been in LNA hands since April 2019. Ceasefire negotiations will be conducted via videoconference, on a still undetermined date, through the Joint Military Commission, which includes 5 GNA and LNA representatives respectively while the UNSMIL head mediates. Despite the fighting Wednesday, acting UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams met with the 5-member delegation representing the LNA. Egypt's Youm 7 newspaper reported that Khalifa Haftar will arrive in Cairo Wednesday night to consult with Egyptian officials. Egypt, the UAE, and Russia are the LNA's main patrons. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will visit Ankara on Thursday to discuss political solutions to the Libyan crisis and that recent GNA victories show that "Haftar cannot win this war." Turkish air support and 10,000 Turkish-recruited Syrian mercenaries facilitated a GNA offensive in recent weeks that drove LNA forces from most of western Libya. Most surprisingly, GNA Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maetig held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow Wednesday. Russia recently dispatched jets to an LNA-controlled airbase and about 1,200 mercenaries from the Kremlin-aligned private military contractor Wagner Group are fighting alongside Haftar's forces. Lavrov said after meeting with Maetig that the presence of Russian prisoners in Tripoli constitutes the main obstacle to cooperation between the countries. Russia's foreign minister was referring to Maxim Shugaley and Samir Seifan, who were arrested last year for election meddling. Their employer, the Russian think tank Foundation for the Protection of National Values, claimed they were merely conducting research.
US officials accused the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of mayors and community leaders from the settlements, of ingratitude after Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani stated that the Trump peace plan proves the administration "does not have Israel's security and settlement interests in mind" and "the only thing they're concerned about regarding the plan is promoting their own interests ahead of the upcoming election." Yamina party chairman Naftali Bennett, who opposes the Trump peace plan, tweeted in response to Elhayani's remarks: "President Trump is a huge friend of the State of Israel, and we're all grateful for his support in fighting Iranian aggression, moving the embassy, recognizing the Golan Heights and much more. Period." Prime Minister Netanyahu likewise fiercely condemned Elhayani for questioning Trump's friendship with Israel. This comes a day after Netanyahu accused settler leaders objecting to the Trump peace plan of "hindering the goal of annexation." Yet, he admitted the United States "may have lessened its enthusiasm about seeing sovereignty carried out" and plans to annex parts of the West Bank in July might be delayed. Jared Kushner in a Monday conference call with Netanyahu requested Israel "greatly slow the process" of extending sovereignty over parts of the West Bank. An Israel Democracy Institute poll conducted in late May and released Wednesday found that 50.1 percent of Israelis support unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank while 30.9 percent are opposed and 19 percent do not know or refused to answer. However, support falls to 24.8 percent if the US does not sanction it. 58.3 percent think the chances of a "large-scale intifada" are high if Israel proceeds with annexing the settlements and the Jordan Valley.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA minister of civil affairs, tweeted on Wednesday that in line with President Mahmoud Abbas's May 19 declaration that the State of Palestine is "absolved" of "all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments," the PA will refuse the taxes collected by Israel on the PA's behalf. Israel transfers around $190 million a month in taxes to the PA. On Tuesday, PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara and the French Consul General in Jerusalem, René Troccaz, signed an €8 million ($9 million) agreement to support the Palestinian 2020 budget.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that Russian warplanes carried out late Tuesday and Wednesday morning the first airstrikes in three months against anti-regime forces in northwestern Syria. Idlib province and its environs are the only part of Syria still under rebel control and Ankara negotiated a ceasefire in Idlib with Moscow last March. Turkey has thousands of troops in Idlib and opposition activists say the Turkish and Syrian militaries have each been reinforcing their positions in the area over the last few days.
As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps oil prices low, Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to extend the 9.7 million bpd cut to July. The April OPEC+ deal required its participants to cut their output collectively by 9.7 million bpd in both May and June before reducing the output cut to 7.7 million bpd in July. Riyadh and Moscow will condition the extension on those countries failing to comply with their May and June output cut quotas making up the difference in July. However, two sources informed Reuters that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE will not extend past June voluntary oil cuts beyond what was mandated by the April deal.
A week after Algiers recalled its ambassador to France in protest of two French public television documentaries about the protests that toppled President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Elysee Palace stated that French President Emmanuel Macron and his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, during a Tuesday telephone call "agreed to work towards a peaceful relationship and an ambitious relaunch of bilateral cooperation in all areas." Algeria's foreign ministry last Thursday characterized the documentaries as "attacks against the Algerian people and its institutions, including the National Armed Forces."
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced Tuesday a new campaign to purge the remnants of ISIS in Iraq from the fringes of Salahaddin province and Kirkuk. Since the Iraqi government declared the recapture of all ISIS territory in December 2017, the group has reverted to guerilla operations.
Lebanon's money dealers called off a month-long strike prompted by the arrest of dealers ignoring the central bank's mandatory exchange rate amidst record inflation. The Syndicate of Money Changers agreed to sell the US dollar for no more than 4,000 Lebanese pounds and buy it for no less than 3,950. In the coming days, the Syndicate will take steps to achieve the 3,200 pound/dollar exchange rate dictated by the central bank.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum