The EU will launch its new naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya by the end of the month, after member states agreed its terms on Thursday.
Diplomatic sources told AFP that ambassadors from the 27 EU countries approved the mission, dubbed Operation Irini after the Greek word for peace, after clearing last-minute objections.
Greece has agreed to be the landing point for any migrants rescued in the course of the mission, though its primary purpose is to enforce the embargo.
An effective arms embargo is seen as crucial to stabilising Libya, where the UN-recognised Tripoli government is under attack from the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the country’s south and east.
The new mission replaces Operation Sophia, set up in 2015 to fight people-smuggling across the Mediterranean at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis.
What to do with any migrants picked up during Irini’s operations was the last major sticking point, with Italy earlier this week insisting it would not receive them.
EU naval vessels, provided and crewed by member state navies, will operate in the eastern Mediterranean with the authority to board ships suspected of delivering arms, a diplomatic source said.
Irini will start when Sophia ends on March 31, with a renewable one-year mandate, though ministers will review it every four months to check it is not having a “pull effect” — encouraging migrants to set out on risky crossings over the Mediterranean.
The agreement in February was finally reached over objections from Austria and Hungary, which feared that reviving the mission would create a de facto rescue fleet that would ferry migrants across the sea to Europe.