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Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter, right, and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias shake hands before their meeting in Athens, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Athens: The commander of forces fighting the Government of National Accord in war-torn Libya has begun meetings in Athens in a bid to counter Turkey’s support for his opponents.

Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias after arriving for a previously unannounced visit late Thursday.

He will continued his meetings with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday as well as with other senior Greek officials.

The surprise visit by Haftar takes place ahead of a weekend summit in Berlin aimed at halting the conflict in oil-rich Libya which is being fueled by competing international support for the warring sides.

Turkey, which has promised to send troops to back the GNA against Haftar’s offensive to rid the capital of Muslim Brotherhood-backed extresmists, is at odds with Greece over oil-and-gas drilling rights in the East Mediterranean.

An interim truce that came into force Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from both sides.

Haftar agreed “in principle” Thursday to attend a peace conference in Berlin after Sarraj signalled he would be present.

Haftar had walked away from ceasefire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the conference.

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Haftar shakes hands with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov Image Credit: AP

Haftar “wants to contribute to the success of the Libyan conference in Berlin and is in principle ready to participate in it,” Maas tweeted, calling it “the best chance in a long time” for peace.

He added that Haftar “has agreed to abide by the ongoing ceasefire”.

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and multiple foreign powers have become embroiled.

The GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar, while Haftar, who backs a rival administration in Libya’s east, has the support of neighbouring Egypt as well as Russia and France.

It enjoys tacit support from the US after US President Donald Trump held a phone conversation with Haftar last year.

The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part and voice support for truce efforts, the State Department said Thursday.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.

In a report to the Security Council he urged all parties to “engage constructively towards that end, including within the Berlin process”.

Guterres also warned against “external interference”, saying it would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis”.

The conference will aim to agree six points including a permanent ceasefire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace, Guterres said.

Turkish troops have been deployed to support the GNA as per the November deal.

Russia, despite its denials, is suspected of supporting Haftar with weapons, money and mercenaries.

Some 11 countries and several international organisations are set to attend along with the Libyan parties.