Eastern Libya officials visit Syria to discuss Turkey

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s foreign minister hosted officials from Libya's east-based government on Sunday, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.

Walid al-Moallem's meeting was the first announced visit by Libyan officials to Syria since 2011, when both countries were engulfed by so-called Arab Spring uprisings and later descended into civil wars.

While Syrian President Bashar Assad has managed to retake control of most of his country from rebels, Libya remains divided between two competing governments, one based in Benghazi in the east and the other based in Tripoli in the west.

Turkey backs the Tripoli-based government, and also backs Syrian rebels fighting against Assad.

Turkey has recently sent thousands of its troops into the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria, and the past week has seen a major escalation in direct conflict between Syrian and Turkish forces, with dozens killed on both sides.

In a further twist, Turkey has in recent weeks been sending Syrian rebels with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group to fight in Libya on behalf of the Tripoli-based government.

SANA reported that Sunday's meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus discussed “Turkish aggression against both brotherly countries, and the danger this poses to their sovereignty, as well as to Arab national security.”

They also signed a memorandum of understanding to reopen diplomatic missions, the report said.

Gulf Arab nations, once the main backers of rebels trying to oust Assad, have recently lined up to reopen their embassies in Syria, worried about leaving the country at the heart of the Arab world to regional rivals Iran and Turkey and missing out on lucrative post-war reconstructive projects.

The United Nations recognizes the Turkey-backed government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, as Libya’s legitimate government because it was born out of U.N.-mediated talks in 2015.

In addition to Turkey, Sarraj is backed to a lesser degree, Qatar and Italy.

The east-based government controls most of Libya and is allied with forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter. He receives backing from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world.