London/Sirte (Libya): Western and some Middle Eastern powers expressed support on Monday for Libya's UN-brokered unity government and Prime Minister Fayez Seraj's push to restore order across the chaotic country and revive its oil-based economy.
In London, officials from the United States, Britain, Italy, France, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia met Seraj for talks to tackle a standoff preventing the Government of National Accord (GNA) from expanding its authority outside the capital.
After the meeting, a spokeswoman for US Secretary of State John Kerry said the ministers, who included British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, said they had reaffirmed the "strong international support" for the GNA.
"The ministers underscored their support for increasing the capacity of the GNA... to respond to the needs of the Libyan people," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
"The ministers also called upon all Libyan economic institutions to work together in support of this effort."
Her statement did not indicate whether any concrete action might ensue from the pledge of support.
The meeting included a session that focused on Libya's economy, in particular how to enforce economic decisions and stabilise the economy without a finance minister. The fractured North African state has two rival central bank governors and the GNA has been unable to appoint a finance minister.
Western powers are alarmed about resistance to Seraj and his GNA from the country's eastern military commander General Khalifa Haftar, who has blocked a parliamentary vote to endorse the UN-backed authorities.
The parliament based in Libya's east has twice rejected lists of ministers put forward by the GNA leadership meant to represent the various sides in Libya's fragmented politics.
The failure to appoint a finance minister has hobbled economic decision-making in the major oil-producing country, an OPEC member. Monday's meeting was to try to address ways to tackle Libya's slide towards economic collapse.
Two other side-effects of Libya's disorder are of major concern abroad - an uncontrolled flow towards Europe of migrants setting off in boats from Libya's lawless shores where people-smugglers operate, and an infiltration of IS militants who now hold some territory along Libya's Mediterranean coast.
Meanwhile, US-backed Libyan forces said they were trying to avoid harming trapped women and children as they thrust on Monday into the last patch of terrain held by IS militants in their former stronghold of Sirte.
Brigades led by fighters from the city of Misrata and backed by US air strikes appear close to recapturing Sirte after a campaign lasting more than five months, though their progress has been slowed by snipers, car bombs and hidden explosives.
A statement from the Libyan forces aligned with a unity government in Tripoli said they were advancing in Sirte's Ghiza Bahriya district "in the face of desperate resistance".
Some residential buildings had been retaken from IS, said Rida Issa, a spokesman.
"There are some women and children trapped inside Ghiza Bahriya and it's well known that they have been used as human shields by Daesh (IS)," he said.
"Our forces are trying very hard to avoid heavy weapons so as not to hurt those civilians."
In recent weeks several groups of civilians, including women and children who were held captive by IS, have escaped or been released from the area of fighting.
The field hospital in Sirte listed one fighter from Misrata as having died in Monday's clashes.