ROME (AP) — Italy would weigh participating in any military intervention to keep forces from the Islamic State group from advancing in Libya should diplomatic efforts fail, Italian officials said Monday.
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti has said Rome could contribute 5,000 troops to lead such a military mission. But Pinotti and Premier Matteo Renzi on Monday sought to dispel the notion Italy already decided on military operations if launched under the auspices of the United Nations. Renzi told the private TG5 TV news "the proposal is to wait, so the U.N. Security Council can work with a bit more conviction on Libya" diplomatically.
U.N.-sponsored efforts must involve "all the players, the local tribes, African Union countries, Arab countries, the Europeans," Renzi said.
With Libya's security rapidly deteriorating, the number of migrants who set out in smugglers boats from Libyan shores toward Italy has surged. On Sunday alone, Italian authorities rescued more than 2,100 migrants and refugees, many of them fleeing the Syrian war.
Some in Rome fear IS advances could increase risks that terrorists, mingled among boatloads of migrants, could reach Italy from Libya, a few hundred kilometers (miles) across the Mediterranean.
Political support for Italian military involvement grew as Egypt carried out airstrikes against IS strongholds across its border in Libya after the extremists beheaded Egyptian Christian hostages.
"From how things are evolving in Libya, frankly, it's difficult to imagine a scenario different from a military kind of international intervention," said Enrico Zanetti, a Cabinet undersecretary.
Renzi said the Italian ambassador had worked to facilitate U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon's efforts aimed at a compromise between the internationally recognized government based in Tobruk in eastern Libya and another government in Tripoli, backed by Islamist militias.
On Thursday, the Italian government will brief Parliament about Libya.
The energy-rich north African nation is wracked by the worst fighting since long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011.
Italy on Sunday became the last Western country to shut its embassy in Tripoli. Many Italians work in oil, gas and construction sectors in Libya, which was occupied for decades by Italy in the last century.