Italian warships illegally enter Libyan waters: Tobruk officials
A handout photo provided by the Italian Navy on September 6, 2013 shows the 153-meter (502-foot) long destroyer Andrea Doria cruising at an unknown location. (AFP/Italian Navy)
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Libya's internationally-recognized government on Sunday said Italian naval ships made an unauthorized intrusion into its territorial waters off the Mediterranean coast.
Xinhua news agency quoted a statement by the government in Tobruk as saying it "holds the Italian authorities responsible for the entry of these ships to the Libyan territorial waters and calls upon the Italian authorities to respect treaties signed between the two countries."
The statement said the ships were spotted off the coast near Benghazi and were headed east, toward Derna. Xinhua quoted the commander of the Libyan air force as saying Libyan warplanes flew over the vessels as a warning but did not fire.
The Italian Ministry of Defense reportedly denied its ships had violated Libyan waters.
Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano in February expressed concern over the emergence of an Islamic State [Daesh] affiliate in Libya, which has since the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi suffered conflict between various armed groups. Alfano reportedly said IS was "at the door" and that there was "no time to waste."
Later in the month, Italy said it was deploying naval vessels to conduct exercises off the Libyan coast.
Italy, along with Greece, has absorbed a significant portion of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to escape war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Last month, the European Union launched an anti-human-smuggling effort known as Operation Sophia, which is aimed at smuggling operations off the coast of Libya.
The mission, first proposed in August after 50 migrants were found dead on a boat off Libya's coast, is restricted to international waters.
By Fred Lambert