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Italy 'Ready to Fight' in Libya if Needed, Foreign Minister Says

FILE - Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, shown at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in January, says 'the idea that there's an active terrorist threat only a few hours from Italy by boat' is unacceptable.

Italy would be ready to join a U.N.-led force to battle "an active terrorist threat'' after recent advances by a faction in Libya that has sworn loyalty to Islamic State militants, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Friday.

In an interview with SkyTG24 television, Gentiloni said Italy backed efforts by U.N. special envoy Bernardino Leon to bring warring factions to the table to try to broker a cease-fire.

But he said should talks fail, Italy "is ready to fight naturally in the context of an international mission.''

"We cannot accept the idea that there's an active terrorist threat only a few hours from Italy by boat,'' he said.

The situation in Libya, already chaotic, "is deteriorating,'' Gentiloni said, adding that Italy "cannot underestimate'' the possibility of an attack by Islamic State militants.

In recent days, Italian officials have made generic statements about being willing to lead a U.N. force in Libya, but Gentiloni's comments Friday marked a more aggressive stance.

Gentiloni spoke after media reports Friday that fighters claiming allegiance to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria had taken control of radio and television stations in Sirte, a coastal city halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi.

Until recently, the Islamic State faction appeared to have limited power and to be confined mostly to the city of Derna, he said.

The main power struggle in Libya, which has been the focus of the U.N. talks, is between an internationally recognized government and a rival administration set up in Tripoli after an armed faction seized the capital last summer.

Both are backed by brigades of fighters who helped oust veteran leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 but have since turned against one another in a complex conflict involving tribes, former Gadhafi troops, Islamist militants and federalist forces.

Traffickers there have taken advantage of the chaos to send tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in small, overcrowded boats toward Italy.

More than 300 migrants died trying to reach Italy from Libya in stormy seas this week. The U.N. refugee organization said at least 218,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean by boat last year and 3,500 died.