Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government carried out their first air strikes Sunday against militia-held third city Misrata, a spokesman said.
Colonel Ahmed Mesmari said the strikes were in response to a renewed attempt by the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) militia on Sunday morning to seize the key Al-Sidra oil export terminal.
Mohamed el-Hejazi, spokesman for armed forces loyal to internationally recognised Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, said his air force had attacked Misrata’s port, an air force academy near the airport and Libya’s biggest steel plant, which is located in the western city.
Ismail Shukri, spokesman for forces allied to Libya Dawn, confirmed that air strikes had taken place but said they caused no damage.
“The airport at Misrata is still working normally. A flight has just taken off,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Dayri, speaking in Cairo, said the assault was carried out by militias based in the western city of Misrata and loyal to the rival Islamist-backed government in Tripoli, the Associated Press reported. He said extremist groups have joined the attack, which forced a shutdown of the country’s largest shipping terminal.
An oil corporation official, Mohammed al-Harari, said late Saturday that 850,000 barrels of oil were lost because of the fire in five storage tanks.
Fajr Libya has been attempting to take Al-Sidra and the nearby Ras Lanuf terminal since Thursday when it killed at least 22 soldiers in a surprise attack by speedboat.
Seven of the 19 oil tanks at Al-Sidra were ablaze on Sunday as a result of the fighting, an oil official said.
Since clashes first erupted around the export terminals on Dec. 13, Libya’s oil production has dropped to less than 350,000 barrels per day compared with 800,000 previously, according to industry experts.
More than three years after dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed revolt, Libya is awash with weapons and powerful militias, and has rival parliaments as well as governments.
As well as Misrata, the capital Tripoli and second city Benghazi are largely in the hands of militia and the internationally recognized government has taken refuge in the remote east.
Fires reach fifth oil depot
Meanwhile, more storage tanks were ablaze Saturday at Al-Sidara after a rocket attack by Islamist militants, officials said as the U.N. denounced attacks on oil installations.
The rocket was fired on Thursday by militiamen from Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), a coalition of Islamist fighters.
One oil tank was hit, said the region’s security spokesman Ali al-Hassi, before the fire spread on Friday to two other full tanks at Al-Sidra terminal.
On Saturday the flames engulfed another two storage tanks at al-Sidra, which is in the eastern region known as the “oil crescent” and home to other key terminals, he said.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said in a statement on Saturday that it “strongly condemns” attacks on Libya’s oil installations.
“The mission warns of the environmental and economic consequences as a result of this violence and destruction in the oil crescent area, and urges the forces on the ground to cooperate in order to allow the fire crews to extinguish the blaze,” it said.
Hassi said the national fire department refused to extinguish the fires, prompting volunteer firefighters to come forward to fight the flames with the help of oil installation guards.
“They are doing their best to extinguish the fire and are working under difficult conditions,” Hassi said.
A technician for Waha, the company responsible for running al-Sidra, said there are 19 storage tanks at the terminal with a total capacity of 6.2 million barrels of oil.
The source, who declined to be named, estimated the amount of crude lost to the fire so far at more than 1.6 million barrels.
In its statement, UNSMIL called attacks on oil installations a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions on Libya.
“Libyan oil belongs to all the Libyan people and is the country’s economic lifeline,” it said, urging all sides to “desist from any action that endangers this strategic national asset.”