A general view shows fire burning at a fuel depot near the
airport road in Tripoli. Photo by Reuters
Libyan forces battled Islamist militants with rockets and
warplanes for control of an army base in the eastern city of
Benghazi after at least 30 people were killed in overnight
Intense fighting in Benghazi, Libya's second city, and
battles between rival militias in the capital Tripoli have
pushed Libya deeper into chaos after two weeks of the
fiercest violence since the 2011 civil war ousted Muammar
Foreign states followed the United States and the United
Nations in pulling diplomats out of the North African
oil-producing state after clashes between two rival brigades
of former anti-Gaddafi fighters closed Tripoli's
A rocket hit a fuel depot near Tripoli airport two days ago,
igniting a huge blaze that Libyan fire-fighters on Tuesday
(local time) were fighting to put out. Italy's government and
Italian oil group ENI had agreed to help them, the government
Three years after Gaddafi's fall, the OPEC nation has failed
to control ex-rebel militias who refuse to disband and who
are threatening the unity of the country. The extent of
recent hostilities has increased Western worries that Libya
is sliding towards becoming a failed state and may once again
go to war.
In Benghazi, battles have intensified since special forces
and regular air force units joined ranks with a renegade army
general, Khalifa Haftar, who launched a campaign against
Islamist militants entrenched in the city, the home of the
revolution against Gaddafi's more than 40-year rule.
"Groups of terrorists calling themselves al-Shoura Council
Forces are attacking the government's main military base,"
Colonel Wanis Bukhamada, a special forces spokesman in
Benghazi, told Reuters. "We have received 30 corpses so far,"
a medical source told Reuters at Benghazi's main hospital.
Islamist fighters from one of those groups, Ansar al Sharia,
classified as a foreign terrorist organisation by Washington,
have been blamed by authorities for carrying out the attack
on the U.S. Benghazi consulate in 2012 in which the U.S.
ambassador was killed.
MILITIAS FIGHT FOR UPPER HAND
A government MiG warplane crashed during Tuesday's fighting
in Benghazi. A Reuters reporter saw the pilot parachuting to
ground after hearing an explosion. A spokesman for Haftar's
forces said it was due to a technical problem.
Eastern Libya, where some of the country's major oil ports
are concentrated, was where opposition to Gaddafi was
While tribal lifestyles declined in Libya as the country's
growing oil wealth meant people moved into towns, traditional
power structures within this nation of about six million
people remained strong beneath the surface.
Gaddafi's strategy effectively amounted to a system of divide
and rule, buying off established tribal leaders.
In Egypt, the army proved to be the supreme political force
but in the post-Gaddafi era powerful militias have taken over
fighting for power, influence and oil wealth.
Tripoli was quieter on Tuesday than over the last fortnight
during which the two brigades of former rebels, mainly from
the towns of Zintan and Misrata, have pounded each other's
positions with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons,
turning the south of the capital into a battlefield.
At least 160 people have died in Tripoli and Benghazi during
the clashes in the two cities, according to the health
FUEL TANKS ABLAZE
A spokesman for the National Oil Corporation said on Tuesday
the armed factions in Tripoli had agreed to a brief
cease-fire to allow emergency services to fight the blazing
fuel storage tanks containing millions of litres of fuel.
The tanks are operated by Brega oil company, which is owned
by NOC, and store oil for local consumption in Libya.
Black smoke was billowing from one of the tanks hit by a
rocket on Sunday near the airport road. The highway and
surrounding areas were empty after homes in the area were
evacuated, except for occasional militia roadblocks.
Fire-fighters were spraying the area with water to cool down
storage depots near the fuel tank that was set ablaze to try
to extinguish the inferno.
Italy, the former colonial power, and Italy's Eni have agreed
to help Libya to counter the blaze, Libya's government said
in a statement without giving further details.
Libya formally requested aid from France to fight the blaze,
the French foreign ministry said. France, which has told its
citizens to leave the country, has yet to ask its embassy
staff to leave.
The United States, whose embassy is near to the contested
airport, evacuated its embassy staff in Tripoli on Saturday,
driving diplomats across the border into Tunisia under heavy
military guard including air support from warplanes.
Britain, other European governments, Turkey and the
Philippines have also pulled out diplomatic staff or left
just a few representatives behind in Tripoli, where the
violence is also causing fuel and power shortages.
France and Spain on Tuesday were evacuating more nationals
and some diplomats from Tripoli, according to LANA state news
agency. Canada is temporarily pulling its diplomats due to
fears about their safety, Foreign Minister John Baird said on
Despite the chaos, Libya's oil production last week was
around 500,000 barrels per day. That was up from earlier this
year when unrest pushed output down to as low as around
200,000 bpd, but still below the usual 1.4 million bpd.