Libya’s internationally recognised government halted UN hosted talks to halt war over the capital after eastern forces shelled Tripoli port, missing a gas tanker and disrupting fuel supplies.
The UN is hosting ceasefire talks between officers from the Tripoli government and the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), which has been trying to take the capital in a near year-long campaign displacing at least 150 000 people.
Talks were agreed by foreign powers backing rival parties at a summit in Germany a month ago, an event that has not halted a war that has ripped apart the oil producer since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The LNA on Tuesday shelled Tripoli port, saying it first attacked a Turkish vessel bringing weapons but later that it hit an arms depot.
In response, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord suspended participation in ceasefire talks “until firm responses are taken against the attacker and we will respond firmly to the attack in appropriate timing.”
“Negotiations don’t mean anything without permanent ceasefire guarantees returning displaced people and the security of the capital and other cities,” it added.
Tripoli port is a major gateway for food, fuel and other imports for the capital.
State oil firm NOC said it evacuated all fuel tankers from the port after a missile struck close to “a highly explosive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanker discharging in the port”.
“Today’s attack on Tripoli port could have led to a humanitarian and environmental disaster,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said.
“The city does not have operational fuel storage facilities. The consequences will be immediate; hospitals, schools, power stations and vital services will be disrupted,” he said.
Tripoli-based forces said the LNA fired four missiles.
Since January, Turkey sent ships carrying arms and heavy trucks to Tripoli and Misrata, also allied to the Tripoli government, diplomats say.
The LNA is allied to a parallel government in eastern Libya supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries. Eastern ports and airports are out of range of the Tripoli forces and its Turkish drones.
The attack on the port unfolded as officers from the Tripoli forces and the LNA held a second round of indirect talks in Geneva to establish a permanent ceasefire. Both sides again refused to be in the same room, UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said, adding he was hopeful of making progress.
“While the situation on the ground remains fragile nobody has so far reneged on accepting the truce and the political process is trying to find a way to move forward,” he told reporters before the GNA suspended participation.
Salame received conditions from tribesmen allied to eastern forces to lift a blockade of eastern oil export ports, but said these were general and would have to be fleshed out in more UN-led talks.
The port strike came as US ambassador Richard Norland visited Haftar in his base near Benghazi.
“The Ambassador noted Haftar’s stated commitment to a permanent ceasefire and reiterated the commitment of Berlin participants to de-escalation, the arms embargo and a political solution to the conflict,” the US embassy in Libya said.