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Libyan Airstrikes Target Group Attacking Oil Ports


Smoke and flame rise from an oil storage tank that was set on fire amid fighting between rival factions at Ras Lanuf terminal, Libya, in this handout picture released June 18, 2018.

Libyan forces carried out airstrikes against a militia attacking key oil ports in the east, a spokesman said as Libya's national oil firm warned Monday of further damage to oil infrastructure as well as environmental contamination in the north African country.

The militia, led by Ibrahim Jadhran who opposes the self-styled Libyan National Army commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, attacked the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidr on Thursday, forcing the National Oil Corporation to suspend exports and evacuate its employees.

The airstrikes late Sunday targeted fighters loyal to Jadhran, who are trying to seize the oil terminals, said Ahmed al-Mesmari, a spokesman for the LNA.

He said warplanes carried out airstrikes against "terrorist positions and gatherings in the operational military zone stretching from Ras Lanuf to the edge of the city of Sirte."

Al-Mesmari called on residents in the region known as the oil crescent to stay away from "areas where the enemy gathers, munition storages and sites with military vehicles."

Jadhran said in a video circulated online Thursday that he had formed an alliance to retake oil terminals. "Our aim is to overturn the injustice for our people over the past two years," he said.

The attack by Jadhran's militia caused "significant" damage to at least two storage tanks, the NOC said in a statement Monday. It warned of further damage to oil infrastructure as well as environmental contamination.

The firm called for an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Jadhran's forces. Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the National Oil Corporation, said the closure of facilities has stopped the production of 400,000 barrels per day, worth an estimated $800 million per month.

The firm advised two tankers scheduled to arrive at the ports to remain at sea until the situation was under control.

The U.N. Support Mission in Libya condemned the assault on the ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidr. "This dangerous escalation in Oil Crescent area puts Libya's economy in jeopardy and risks igniting a widespread confrontation," UNSMIL tweeted Thursday.

Jadhran is a rebel commander who took part in the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed ruler Moammar Ghadhafi. In 2013, he proclaimed himself the guardian of Libya's oil crescent including the ports of al-Sidr, Ras Lanouf and Brega, which represent about 60 percent of Libya's oil resources. Sanalla said Jadhran's actions cost Libya more than $100 billion over three years.

He lost control of the oil crescent to Hifter's forces in 2016.

Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising. The country is now split between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by an array of militias. Hifter is allied with the east-based administration that is at odds with the U.N.-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli.

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