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Italy would consider U.S. request to use NAS Sigonella in Libya airstrikes

ROME — Italy's foreign minister said Tuesday that his government will evaluate any U.S. request to allow use of a Sicilian air base in the campaign of airstrikes against an Islamic State group stronghold in Libya.

Paolo Gentiloni said on state television that use of the Sigonella base would be considered "if requested" and Parliament would be informed of any decision.

Targeted U.S. air strikes against Islamic State group militants in their stronghold of Sirte, a Libyan coastal city, began on Monday.

"I believe that it's a very positive fact" that the Americans have decided to intervene, Gentiloni said. He noted that the extremists were concentrated in four or five compounds, but said it won't be easy to eradicate them.

In February, Italy agreed to let armed U.S. drones take off from Sigonella but only to defend U.S. forces targeting Islamic State group extremists. Italy has stressed that it won't let Sigonella be used for offensive purposes.

Italy has insisted Libya must request any anti-Islamic State group airstrikes, which Libya's U.N.-brokered unity government did in the case of Sirte.

The strikes send a "very strong message not only against terrorism, but also for the stabilization of Libya," Gentiloni said. He added that "90 percent of migrants in Italy come from Libya, and this is the reason why we are so keen on its stabilization."

Libya slid into chaos after the ouster and killing of longtime strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Its long coastline on the Mediterranean's southern shore serves as a base for smuggling operations that have launched boats with hundreds of thousands of migrants toward Italy over the last few years. The Libyan coast is some 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) from southern Italy.

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