Egypt’s Aviation Ministry is waiting for an assessment from the Foreign Ministry of the number of Egyptians residing in Libya to begin evacuating them, the Aviation Minister said on Monday.
Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel told Aswat Masriya that Egyptians in Libya will cross into Tunisia using buses before they get flown back home. He said there is a difficulty in evacuating them using Libyan airports, citing the “deteriorating security situation” there.
Twenty-one Coptic Egyptians were abducted in the Libyan city of Sirte on two separate occasions in December and January, only one week apart. They were beheaded in a video released late Sunday titled “a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.”
Egypt has launched airstrikes in Libya on Monday in response to the beheadings. The Egyptian military said in a statement the strikes targeted training sites and weapons and ammunition storage sites belonging to Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, located inside Libya.
The Aviation Ministry created an emergency airlift with Tunisia last July to transport Egyptians stranded on the Libyan borders with Tunisia back home.
Abu Bakr al-Gendy, the director of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), said that the agency has no official count of Egyptians residing in Libya. He added during a press conference on Monday that a large number of Egyptian nationals in Libya enter the neighbouring country through “illegitimate means” and that the Libyan authorities do not count foreign workers on its lands.
Gendy estimated the number of Egyptian workers currently in Libya to be between 200 and 250 thousand, yet stressed there are no official figures to confirm this.
Mahmoud al-Zanati, head of Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority, said on Monday that civil aviation between Egypt and Libya is only operating in the direction of return to Egypt.
Egyptian security authorities had issued a ban on any travel to Libya on January 20, reported state-run news agency MENA.
In his televised address after the video’s release, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed on fully enforcing last month’s ban.
Marsa Matrouh’s Security Director al-Anani Hammouda said a state of emergency has been declared in Egypt’s Salloum border crossing, which connects it to Libya, reported MENA. The border crossing is ready to receive any Egyptians returning from the neighouring country, he added.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty told reporters on Monday that Egyptian authorities are coordinating with Libya’s neighbours to facilitate the return of Egyptians from the conflict-torn country.
Fighting in Libya has intensified since the overthrow of late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, reaching unprecedented levels over the past year. As a result, several Libyan cities have fallen under control of armed militant groups.
Several Egyptians have been caught up in the militant fighting gripping the neighbouring country.