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Libya's Haftar opens diplomatic mission in Syria

Representatives of eastern commander attend ceremony in Damascus as the two bitter foes of Turkey strengthen ties
The Libyan flag was seen raised above the country's embassy in Damascus for the first time since 2012 (AFP)

Representatives of Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar on Tuesday opened a diplomatic mission in the Syrian capital Damascus, strengthening ties between the two bitter foes of Turkey.

The Libyan flag was seen raised above the North African country's embassy in the Syrian capital for the first time since 2012.

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The Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is battling forces sent into its strife-torn northwest by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Meanwhile in Libya, Erdogan is backing the country's UN-recognised government in Tripoli, which is fighting against troops loyal to Haftar who launched an offensive on the capital last April.

Since 2014, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt have provided Haftar's Libyan National Army with military equipment including aircraft and helicopters, while Moscow has provided mercenaries.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad attended the flag hoisting, which he said came as both sides faced a common enemy.

"When Syria decides to renew ties with... Libya, it is recognition that we are waging a single battle in Syria and Libya against terrorism and those supporting it," he said.

"The Turkish regime and its leader - who has lost touch with reality - are escalating their attack."

Spiralling tensions

Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, with the two rival authorities now vying for power.

Turkey has dispatched troops and pro-Turkish Syrian fighters to Tripoli in support of the Government of National Accord.

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Haftar's move in Syria came as tensions have spiralled between the Assad government and Turkish forces in the northwest, where Turkey has downed several government jets and bombs have killed dozens of troops on each side.

Haftar's parallel administration sent its foreign minister Abdulhadi Lahweej and deputy prime minister Abdul Rahman Al-Ahiresh to Damascus.

"This is not the embassy of the east or of the west" of Libya, said Syria's Meqdad.

"We believe in a single Libya... Our enemy is he who sells the country to the coloniser, especially the Turkish coloniser," he added.

Diplomatic ties suspended

Syria's conflict, sparked by the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in November 2011 as the death toll mounted. 

Several regional powers, betting on the demise of Assad's government, suspended diplomatic ties with Damascus.

"We hope that those who froze Syria's membership will recall their Arabism," Meqdad said.

The UAE and Bahrain re-opened their diplomatic missions in the Syrian capital in December 2018.