Temporary ceasefire near Tripoli blaze, more diplomats flee Libya chaos


Rival militias fighting for control of Tripoli airport agreed on Wednesday to a temporary ceasefire to allow firefighters to try to control a huge blaze at a fuel depot hit by a rocket.

After a fortnight of the worst fighting since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, most Western governments have followed the United States and United Nations pulling their diplomats out of the North African country.

The French government said it had temporarily closed its embassy on Wednesday, and evacuated 30 French nationals from Tripoli just a few days after the U.S. embassy evacuated its staff under heavy military escort across the Tunisian border.

Except for sporadic shelling away from the ceasefire zone around the fire near the capital’s international airport, Wednesday was the quietest day in the capital Tripoli for two weeks, with less smoke seen from the blaze.

For two weeks, two brigades of former rebels, mainly allied to the towns of Zintan and Misrata, have pounded each other’s positions in Tripoli with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons, turning the south of the capital into a battlefield.
“Many mediators have succeeded in convincing the militias to stop fighting, at least temporarily,” government spokesman Ahmed Lamin said. “They are trying to get them to the negotiating table, we hope they will agree.”

It was unclear if the blaze at the airport depot that supplies millions of litres of gasoline and gas to the capital Tripoli was under control on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) which owns Brega Oil company which operates the tanks, said he did not yet have any update on the situation.

Three years after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s government is unable to impose its authority on the brigades of former fighters who remain heavily armed and often challenge the state to make political demands.

On Wednesday, the eastern city of Benghazi was also quieter after Islamist fighters and allied militia forces overran a special forces army base in the city in a major blow to a military campaign against Islamist militants there.

The self-declared Benghazi Shura Council forces, which includes former rebels and militants from al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, took over the base on Tuesday after fighting involving rockets and warplanes that killed at least 30 people.

Special forces troops and irregular forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a renegade former army general who had launched a campaign to clear Benghazi of Islamist militants, have withdrawn to an air base outside Benghazi, his spokesman said.

Benghazi’s main police station was also completely abandoned on Wednesday morning, a Reuters reporter said.

Fighters from Ansar al Sharia, classified as a terrorist organisation by Washington, have been blamed by authorities for attacking the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 when the U.S. ambassador was killed.