Libyan military strongman threatens Italian ships trying to stop flow of migrants

Confiscated NGO ship Iuventa heading to Trapani

"We reject Al-Sirraj request to Italy which can vividly violate the sovereignty of Libya under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration". The upper house was also expected to back the measure when it votes later in the day.

In a subsequent Facebook post, the group said it is very sorry that it can not operate in the search and rescue zone, where migrants have been attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into Europe.

Italy has no intention to do a "naval blockade", which would be a "hostile action", said the Italian government, insisting on a "request for support and assistance to the coast guard of libyans", in the fight against the traffickers of human beings.

"Haftar does not have a military presence in the west and especially in the Libyan capital, Tripoli", he said, adding that forces loyal to Haftar near Tripoli would meet with resistance if they made any attempt to reach GNA-controlled ports.

On Wednesday, the Italian parliament passed legislation allowing the Italian Navy to move into Libyan waters to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Operation Sophia is an European Union mission to stop people trafficking and arms smuggling in Libya.

Italy would only act in accordance with the Libyan authorities, Gentiloni said on Friday after the Italian cabinet approved the mission without giving details of what his government planned to do.

The GNA is headed by Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj, whose authority is contested by Haftar and a rival administration based in Libya's east that he supports. After a surge in migrant arrivals from Libya at the start of the year, the number of newcomers has slowed. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

The humanitarian groups say they are only interested in saving lives, warning that thousands of people would die if they were not out at sea.

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters - and not worldwide waters - can be legally returned to Libya, but aid workers say conditions in migrant reception camps there are dire.

Rome has also put pressure on nongovernmental organisations that have played an increasingly important role in picking up migrants off the Libyan coast and bringing them to Italy.

The government has introduced a code of conduct for the NGOs and has demanded that armed police travel on their boats to help root out eventual people smugglers.

The shocking warning comes after two Italian fishing boats were attacked by a vessel in Zarsis, off the border between Libya and Tunisia, in worldwide waters.

The Iuventa, a boat operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, was "preventatively" impounded on the Italian island of Lampedusa on the orders of a prosecutor based in Trapani, Sicily, the state police force said. There was no immediate comment from Jugend Rettet.

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