TRIPOLI—Libya’s governing National Transitional Council issued its sternest public rebuke of Qatar on Tuesday, warning the Gulf emirate to stop funneling arms, money and other support to Libyan factions without the approval of Libya’s interim governing authority.
“It’s time we publicly declare that anyone who wants to come to our house has to knock on our front door first,” Ali Tarhouni, Libya’s oil and finance minister and the deputy chief of the NTC’s executive committee, told a news conference. “I hope this message will be received by all our friends, both our Arab brothers and Western powers.”
Mr. Tarhouni didn’t name Qatar, but his comments came in response to a journalist’s question about recent allegations that Qatar has continued to ship weapons to militia leaders in Libya weeks after the capital’s fall, and without the approval or knowledge the ruling NTC. An NTC official said afterward that Qatar was “without any doubt” the target of his comments.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the controversial Islamist commander of the Tripoli Military Council who is alleged to have received the most recent weapons shipments, denied the allegations. “We do not receive any help, military or non-military from any entity,” he said in an interview. “I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.”
Mr. Tarhouni’s comments come as tensions are heating up between the country’s Western-backed and more secular minded NTC leadership, and a loose-knit coalition of Islamist militia leaders who played a leading role in the fight to oust Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Those tensions have been evident elsewhere in the capital as well. In recent days, followers of the rigid Salafi school of Islam have destroyed dozens of gravestones at mosques around Tripoli, saying gravestones are a form of idolatry that violates Islamic law. On Tuesday night, they faced off with local militia men defending a mosque in Tripoli’s Zawiyat al-Dahmani neighborhood that had gravestones the hardliners sought to destroy.
NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil denounced the grave vandalism at Tuesday’s news conference and asked religious authorities to issue a decree against it. “It’s not allowed in Islamic law to do this,” he said.
Mr. Tarhouni’s comments mark a jarring change in tone for Libya’s leadership toward Qatar. The tiny sheikhdom was one of the rebels’ most robust backers throughout the conflict, providing aid, weapons and advanced communications gear, among other support, for the six-month rebel effort to oust Mr. Gadhafi.Qatar also dispatched teams of special-forces soldiers to train rebel fighters.