Heavy black smoke rose over southern Tripoli on Thursday after rival militias exchanged artillery and rocket fire in a battle over the Libyan capital’s airport that has killed more than 50 people in nearly a fortnight of fighting.
Sporadic blasts echoed across the city from the morning in clashes that have deepened fears of post-war Libya becoming a failed state, with a fragile government unable to control heavily armed brigades battling for power.
Fighting in the capital and the eastern city of Benghazi is the heaviest since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. It has closed most international flights to Libya and has prompted the United States to pull out embassy staff.
A health ministry official in Tripoli was unable to provide details of Thursday’s casualties because he could not contact hospital staff in the area. One local doctor said at least 30 injured people were at his Tripoli hospital on Wednesday.
Mitiga hospital in Tripoli said it was in an emergency situation because of a lack of resources and the inability of many employees to get to work due to the fighting and gasoline shortages, state news agency LANA reported.
At least nine people were killed and 19 wounded, mostly civilians, in heavy clashes overnight in Benghazi as government forces tried to oust Islamist militants holed up in Libya’s eastern port city, medical sources said on Thursday.
Most gas stations in Tripoli have closed since the fighting erupted over the airport. Hundreds of cars have been left for days in huge lines at different stations waiting for fuel.
The National Oil Corporation (NOC) said in a statement the gasoline crisis was mainly a security problem and was not caused by a lack of supplies.
Two main rival militias in Tripoli have exchanged fire with Grad rockets, shells and anti-aircraft cannons for control of the main airport for nearly two weeks, damaging aircraft there, and shutting down most international flights.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday Turkey may evacuate its embassy in Tripoli, a day after his ministry advised all Turkish citizens to leave the North African country due to the worsening security situation.
OIL OUTPUT HIT
The fighting has also taken a toll on Libya’s fragile oil industry. The significant El-Feel oil field has reduced production due to the clashes and total output slipped around 20 percent to 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) on Monday.
A spokesman for the state-run NOC said on Thursday production had risen to 500,000 bpd, but he said there was still no progress on reopening the Brega oil port after a deal with protesters to end a blockade there.
Reopening Brega would help increase crude output by bringing the stalled Sirte oil operations back into production.
The OPEC oil producer’s petroleum industry has been a prime target for blockades by militias and other armed groups seeking to pressure the government for financial or political gain.
Libya’s Western partners fear the country is becoming increasingly polarised between two main factions of competing militia brigades and their political allies.
One side is grouped around the western town of Zintan and their Tripoli allies who are loosely tied to the National Forces Alliance political movement in the parliament.
The second faction centres on the more Islamist-leaning Misrata brigades and allied militias who side with the Justice and Construction Party, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Zintan fighters have controlled Tripoli airport since the fall of the capital in 2011. They have clashed with rivals repeatedly in Tripoli but this week’s battles were the most sustained since Gaddafi’s overthrow.
Western powers hope the formation of a new parliament in August after a June election will open the way for the factions to forge a political settlement over a new government.
The previous parliament, known as the General National Congress, was caught up in deadlock between Islamist and nationalist factions and was blamed by many Libyans for the lack of progress towards political stability and democracy.