A rebel fighter readies a mortar during clashes with regime forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Syria accused Turkey on October 30, of a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, as Ankara allowed Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters and opposition rebels to cross its border to battle jihadists. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The United States is considering imposing sanctions on Libya’s combative factions to try to prevent what it says is a proxy conflict fuelled by regional powers from erupting into full-blown civil war and force militant leaders to negotiate, US officials told Reuters.

Three years after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, outside intervention has exacerbated the fighting, with Qatar and, to some degree, Turkey supporting Islamist-linked forces and Egypt and other Gulf states backing more secular rivals.

US sanctions would be separate from potential United Nations sanctions that aim to pressure Libyan factions and militias to take part in UN-backed political negotiations to be led by UN envoy Bernardino Leon.

The possibility of using UN sanctions to help bring about political talks has been aired publicly. The consideration of separate US sanctions has not been previously disclosed.

US officials declined to say who they might target with sanctions or why they felt it necessary to look at US penalties separate from the United Nations, reported Reuters. Nor would they detail what sanctions they would propose.

If applied, the United Nations sanctions would target individuals or groups involved in the fighting, rather than their foreign backers, and would freeze their assets as well as impose travel bans.

Libya is in chaos with two rival governments and parliaments struggling for power and control of its oil wealth.

The western part of the country is controlled by militants with Islamist links who call themselves Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) and who seized the capital Tripoli in August. This group has reinstated the previous parliament and established its own government.

The internationally recognised government is in charge of a rump state in the east, whose parliament operates out of a hotel in Tobruk. In a ruling likely to deepen divisions, the Supreme Court on Thursday declared this parliament unconstitutional.

The officials suggested at least two potential reasons for unilateral US action. First, if the United Nations moves slowly or not at all, US penalties could be imposed whenever Washington wished.

Second, US sanctions could be especially worrisome to Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan army general who fled to the United States after breaking ranks with Gaddafi and returned to launch a campaign against the Islamists in Benghazi.

Western officials believe the involvement of outside powers such as Egypt and the Gulf states is exacerbating the conflict and that those countries are arming and funding the more secular forces, said Reuters.

Haftar, according to Western officials, has become the major proxy in Libya for Egypt, whose military-dominated government, headed by General Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, regards extremists on its border with Libya as a primary national security challenge.

Gulf states sees Egypt’s leadership as a firewall against militants and has given Cairo financial and military support, US and allied officials say.

Saudi Arabia, a supporter of Al Sissi, is sympathetic to Egyptian involvement in Libya but is not believed to have played any direct role, told Reuters.

Supporting Libya’s Islamists, including some elements that the United States views as dangerous extremists, are Qatar and Turkey. Qatar, officials said, has given arms and money to Islamist militias while Turkey has offered moral support.

While acknowledging regional fears Libya may become a magnet for militants, a US official told Reuters that Washington believed outside interference may create “the very kind of conflict ... that will invite negative elements into Libya rather than keep them out.”