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Haftar’s forces capture Turkish ship after defense pact signed by Libya rivals

Eastern forces loyal to Libya’s self-styled commander Khalifa Haftar have seized a Turkish ship shortly after Turkey’s parliament approved a defense pact in support of his rival in the North African country's civil war.

The Grenada-flagged vessel was taken to Ras Al Hilal port near the eastern city of Derna “to search and verify its cargo,” spokesman for Haftar’s forces said in a statement on Saturday.

Haftar’s forces provided Reuters with footage that shows them seizing the ship and questioning three Turkish crew members. They also published copies of passports of the Turkish nationals.

It was not immediately clear what the ship was carrying.

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two rival governments: the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the Tripoli-based unity Government of National Accord (GNA). Haftar, who is commander-in-chief of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), supports the eastern government.

Turkey supports Libya’s internationally-recognized government in Tripoli, which has been under assault by Haftar’s forces trying to seize the capital for nine months, while the LNA receives support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

According to a report by UN experts seen by Reuters last month, Ankara has sent military supplies to Libya. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even said he was ready to send troops into Libya upon Tripoli’s request.

Haftar has ordered his self-styled LNA to target Turkish ships and companies, ban Turkish flights, and arrest Turkish nationals in Libya.

Turkey’s parliament on Saturday approved a security and military cooperation deal signed with GNA last month, a first step before a possible deployment of personnel to help with defense training and guidance if requested by Tripoli.

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Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention.

His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.

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