Fajr Libya Targets Government-Controlled Oil Port

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Libyan soldiers, loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government of Abdullah al-Thani and General Khalifa Haftar, rest on a sidewalk in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi on February 28, 2015. AFP/Abdullah Doma.

Published Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Updated at 6:15 pm (GMT+2): Militia warplanes attacked a major oil export terminal in Libya on Tuesday but were driven off by anti-aircraft fire without being able to hit their targets, a spokesman for guards at the terminal said.

In response, planes from the internationally-recognized government’s air force struck Tripoli's militia-controlled Mitiga airport without causing any casualties, the head of the air force said.

Ali al-Hassi, spokesman for the forces guarding oil installations in the east, said "two MiG airplanes took off from Sirte airport and tried to bomb Sidra, but anti-aircraft defenses forced them to drop their bombs on wasteland without causing any casualties or damage."

Sirte, hometown of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Sidra. Militias control the airport and parts of the city, a stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the oil-rich North African country.

Mitiga is the only airport still functioning in Tripoli, which was seized last summer by Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn), a coalition of militias in which Islamists play a major role.

The international airport was severely damaged and knocked out of commission during heavy fighting at the time.

Since then, the military airfield at Mitiga has been open to civilian traffic as well.

Meanwhile, Libya's elected parliament agreed on Monday to return to UN-sponsored peace negotiations one week after pulling out, as a delegate from its rival assembly said the talks would resume on Thursday.

Western powers see the UN talks as the only chance to end turmoil in Libya, where a power struggle between two rival governments and their armed factions risks pushing the North African country deeper into civil war four years after a NATO-backed revolt overthrew Gaddafi.

Fighting between the two factions has cut into Libya's vital crude exports and has also allowed militants claiming loyalty to ISIS to gain a foothold in the large desert nation.

News of parliament's move came just after Islamist militants shelled two Libyan oilfields, a security official said.

On Monday, Islamist militants shelled Libya's Bahi and Mabrouk oilfields, damaging a pipeline to the Sidra oil port, said Ali Hassi, a spokesman for forces protecting energy infrastructure. Fighting was continuing and he could not give details of the damage.

Forces loyal to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s internationally-recognized government and parliament based in the east are battling Fajr Libya forces who took over the capital Tripoli last summer and set up their own government and elected a new parliament.

The elected House of Representatives (HoR) quit the UN talks after a double suicide bombing attack on an eastern town killed 45 people on February 20.

"The HoR voted today to resume the peace dialogue after we held a meeting with the UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon," spokesman Faraj Hashem said.

Salah Makhzoum, a deputy for the rival parliament, which is known as the GNC, a former assembly reinstated by Tripoli's forces, said the talks would resume on Thursday in Morocco.

The UN talks have yielded little concrete progress so far toward a unity government, a lasting ceasefire and getting Libya's transition to full democracy back on track. Ceasefires have been difficult to keep.

In another development on Monday that might complicate the UN talks, Khalifa Haftar was appointed as army commander for Libya's internationally-recognized government.

The appointment of Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who later joined the 2011 Western-backed revolt against the Libyan leader, is likely to stoke tensions with the Tripoli-based government, which sees his rise as a sign that the old guard is regaining strength.

"Khalifa Haftar for us is a war criminal," GNC spokesman Omar Hmaidan said. "Of course, this measure will add to the escalation and complicate things."

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Thani's government was forced to flee to the country's east in June after militias, among them Islamists, seized Tripoli and other main cities.

Some militias have pledged allegiance to ISIS, but the main groups, including the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya coalition, which has been involved in the peace talks, have not done so.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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