Libya’s warring factions agreed to “a permanent” ceasefire on Friday, potentially ending years of bloodshed and chaos in what the United Nations hopes will pave the way to a comprehensive peace deal that could unite the country ravaged by civil war.
The shaky truce between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces loyal to renegade eastern commander Khalifa Haftar is set to start immediately.
Under its terms all foreign fighters must leave Libya within three months while a joint police force will secure areas cleared of fighters.
"The road was long and difficult at times. Your patriotism was your way forward and you were able to reach a ceasefire agreement," said acting United Nations envoy Stephanie Williams after the signing ceremony in Geneva.
Meanwhile the first commercial passenger plane in more than a year flew from the Libyan capital Tripoli across the frontline to the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, in another indication of progress.
Ms Williams noted Libya's "fraught" recent history of broken truces and failed political solutions but added “we shouldn't let the cynics win”.
Representatives from the warring camps told The Independent they wanted Friday’s deal to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive agreement in the future but remained deeply suspicious about whether the other side will commit violations.
Hassan al-Houni a senior GNA official, told The Independent the truce “gives hope.”
Mohammed Salkak, a former GNA spokesperson turned independent politician, called it “an important step” towards a broader settlement but urged the international community to impose sanctions on whomever violates the terms of the deal.
On the other side, Akram Bouhlaiga, a top aide to Mr. Haftar said the commander’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) “hoped it would stick” but were concerned that the GNA does not have control over militia groups with which it is allied.
“Ultimately we demand the unification and creation of a proper military establishment,” he added.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has intervened militarily in Libya on the side of the GNA, welcomed the move but also cast doubt on the sustainability of the truce.
"Its reliability does not seem too achievable to me,” he said, “Time will show how lasting it will be.”
Analysts closely following events in Libya described a months-long alignment of diverse players in Libya that ultimately led to the truce.
“There has been somewhat of a common desire to re-start the economy and, if at all feasible, avoid a border war between the main alliances for now,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a North Africa specialist at the Clingendael Institute in The Netherlands.
Libya has been ripped apart by multiple civil conflicts between warring fiefdoms of armed factions since the 2011 uprising toppled late leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The country is roughly divided in two between the Turkish-backed GNA in Tripoli, and General Haftar’s forces that normally support an eastern administration anchored in the eastern cities of Bayda and Tobruq.
Hopes for an end to the conflict were devastated last April when Haftar, backed by the United Arab Emirates and later Russia, launched an offensive to take the capital from armed factions loyal to the GNA.
He was forced to retreat but skirmishes have continued around the central city of Sirte.
The UN has repeatedly and futilely warned that the flood of fighters and weaponry into Libya violates a UN arms embargo, with UN experts saying Syrian, Russian, Chadian, Sudanese and European fighters have been deployed on all sides.
An Independent investigation into the murky mercenary underworld showed that a private Russian security company may have sent up to 1,200 Syrian mercenaries to support Haftar and several hundred Russian soldiers. Turkey has recruited as many as 5000 Syrians on the GNA side, according to UN experts.
Libya's energy facilities, the biggest prize for both sides in the OPEC member state, have been swept up in the frontlines.
However, the UN is also pushing for talks to secure agreement on the management of Libya's wealth and its sovereign institutions.
Acting UN envoy Williams said on Friday there “good indications that the oil installations of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider will be ready to resume production in the near future, in a very short period of time."