Khalifa Haftar launces new battle for oil ports

Troops commanded by Libyan renegade general Khalifa Haftar have launched an offensive to seize back control of two of the country's key

Khalifa Haftar launces new battle for oil ports

World Bulletin / News Desk

Troops commanded by Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive Tuesday to seize two key oil terminals, 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 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 started the assault to retake the oil terminals of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra, after both sites were seized by a rival force earlier this month.

In September, pro-Haftar forces captured Ras Lanuf, Al-Sidra 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.

"Ground, sea and air forces launched joint attacks to liberate Ras Lanuf from terrorist groups," said Khalifa al-Abidi, a spokesman for pro-Haftar forces.

Abidi said the orders were issued early Tuesday for the offensive, which is also targeting the nearby Al-Sidra oil terminal.

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

Russia has been cultivating Haftar as an ally, with the military strongman making several visits to Moscow.

 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, told AFP.

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.

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

 "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 Benghazi Defence Brigades (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 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.

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Mart 2017, 18:59
YORUM EKLE