First Published: 2017-03-14

Libya's Haftar launches offensive on oil terminals
Forces commanded by Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar 'launched joint attacks' against Islamist rivals, retaking key oil terminals seized earlier this month.
Middle East Online

Oil sites were seized by Islamist-led force earlier this month

TRIPOLI - Troops commanded by Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar announced the recapture Tuesday of two key oil installations, as fighting raged in Tripoli where a rival government has struggled to assert its authority.

Libya has experienced years of violence and lawlessness since the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival parliaments and governments trading barbs and militias fighting over territory and the country's vast oil wealth.

Forces loyal to Haftar mounted a day-long assault by land, sea and air to retake the oil export terminals of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra, after both sites were seized by a rival, Islamist-led force earlier this month.

"The armed forces... have liberated the whole of the oil crescent," said a spokesman for pro-Haftar forces.

The head of the oil installation guards, General Meftah al-Megaryef, also said the two terminals had been recaptured.

Basset al-Shairi, a commander of the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) which had seized the two sites on March 3, said Ras Lanuf had fallen without specifying the outcome in nearby Al-Sidra.

In September, pro-Haftar forces had already captured the terminals and two other eastern oil ports in a blow to the authority of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli.

Haftar backs a rival administration in the country's far east that has refused to cede power to the Government of National Accord (GNA) working in the capital since last year.

Oil accounts for more than 95 percent of Libya's revenues.

Haftar's forces, which call themselves the Libyan National Army (LNA), have battled jihadists in second city Benghazi for more than two years.

- Tanks 'under our balcony' -

In Tripoli, fresh fighting raged on Tuesday between rival armed groups, authorities in the capital said, causing UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler to call for an "immediate ceasefire".

"Civilians at grave risk in ongoing clashes," he wrote on Twitter.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard in two neighbourhoods west of the city centre, witnesses said, and several key thoroughfares were blocked, leaving many trapped in their homes.

Witnesses said tanks had deployed in the neighbourhoods of Hay al-Andalus and Gargaresh, after the fighting broke out late Monday.

"Early this morning, several tanks and vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons passed under our balcony," Abdel-Nur Bachir, a retired 80-year-old businessman living in Gargaresh, said.

It was not immediately clear who was involved in the clashes.

The Tripoli police, who are loyal to the GNA, said they were "purging" the area of "outlaws", but did not announce any casualties.

A resident of Hay Al-Andalus, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was trapped indoors.

"We have nowhere to go to escape the fighting. All we can do is pray that no shelling hits the house," she said.

"People are holed up indoors. Schools are closed."

- 'Complex' ties -

Since Kadhafi's fall, several armed groups have battled for control of the capital in the absence of a regular army or police force.

The GNA has denied having any connection to the takeover of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra earlier this month.

A Libya expert, in a briefing released last week, described the relationship between the GNA -- and the Presidential Council (PC) that heads it -- and the BDB that led the attack on the oil terminals as "complex and somewhat unclear".

"While the GNA's Minister of Defence, Mahdi al-Barghati, supports the group, as do some members of the PC, the PC has officially condemned the attack and stated it had no ties to the BDB," Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group think-tank said.

The BDB were formed in 2016 by fighters including Islamists ousted from Benghazi by Haftar's forces.

The GNA said last week that it had ordered oil installation guards who are loyal to it to secure the two terminals.

Last month, Haftar and GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj agreed to form a committee to explore amending the UN-backed agreement that gave rise to the unity government.

But the pro-Haftar eastern parliament, which was elected in 2014, last week suspended its participation in political dialogue and called for presidential and legislative elections to be held before next February.

 

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three