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.

 

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days

Turkish troops pulled from NATO drill amid new tensions

Six children among civilians killed in shelling of Eastern Ghouta

US official calls on Sudan to stop 'church demolitions'

Hariri set to leave Saudi Arabia for France

Fears of bombs, IS cells still haunt Mosul

Iraq retakes Rawa, last town held by IS

Riyadh striking deals with people detained in anti-graft purge

Iran criticises French Mideast policy

Russia again blocks UN resolution on Syria action

Israel military chief says ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia

Egypt confirms death of wanted jihadist

UK denies link between citizen detained in Iran and £400m debt