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Libya's General National Congress (GNC) deputy president Saleh al-Makhzoum (2ndR), the new national government head, Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj (C) and the head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Mohamed Ali Shoeb (2ndL) celebrate after signing a deal on a unity government on December 17, 2015, in the Moroccan city of Skhirat. Rival Libyan politicians signed a deal on a unity government despite opposition on both sides, in what the United Nations described as a "first step" towards ending the crisis. AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA / AFP / FADEL SENNA

Libyan rivals sign UN-brokered unity deal

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Delegates from Libya’s rival parliaments have signed a United Nations-brokered agreement to form a national government, in what the UN described as a “first step” towards ending the country’s crisis.

Politicians from the the Tobruk and Tripoli parliaments, as well as other political figures, signed the accord in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat on Thursday.

It comes despite a warning from the heads of both parliaments that the deal had no legitimacy and that the politicians present represented only themselves.

UN envoy Martin Kobler acknowledged that much remained to be done to end Libya’s turmoil, which has allowed the Islamic State to expand its influence in Libya in recent months.

“This is just the beginning of a long journey for Libya. Signing is only the first step on the road to putting Libya back on the right track,” he said at the ceremony.

“The door is always open to those who are not here today. The new government must move urgently to address the concerns of those who feel marginalised.”

Supporters of the agreement hope the deal will lead to a ceasefire between military forces attached to both parliaments, and a renewed focus on the IS group.

The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, said on Twitter that the agreement “will enable the international community to engage with one representative government to tackle terrorism and Isil in Libya”.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius welcomed the deal, and called in a statement for “a national unity government to be set up… as soon as possible in Tripoli. It’s a requirement to curb terrorism.”

The signing follows a gathering in Rome of a US- and Italian-led group of world powers and regional players that called on the two sides to lay down their arms and back a new unity government.

Nouri Abusahmein, who heads the militia-backed General National Congress in Tripoli that is not recognised internationally, said on Wednesday that the signatories did not represent the parliaments.

“Whoever has not been commissioned by the GNC to sign or make a deal on its behalf is, and will remain, without legitimacy,” he said.

A government such as that proposed by the UN “is not the subject of consensus and does not even guarantee the minimum required to ensure its effectiveness,” he added.

On Tuesday in Malta, Abusahmein met Aguila Saleh, who heads the Western-backed parliament based in Tobruk.

Rival talks

At the beginning of October, delegations from both sides approved a draft agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN, but it was later rejected by their parliaments.

Abusahmein and those MPs who support him are not against an agreement, but say they want more time to negotiate it.

On 6 December, members of the two bodies launched an alternative process in Tunis by signing a “declaration of interest” on a unity government, and this process is backed by the two parliament heads.

On Wednesday, Kobler met the recognised government’s controversial army chief General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar said he was not satisfied with the UN deal, which stipulates that if the rival authorities fail to agree on who should head the army within 10 days, a new military chief will be appointed.

But he said he would not boycott the agreement.

Many members of the Tripoli parliament oppose Haftar.

The Tobruk parliament says a UN arms embargo is hampering the battle against IS, which seized control of the coastal city of Sirte in June.