Libya’s largest oilfield attacked

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An armed group attacked Libya’s largest oilfield, but was repelled after clashes with its protection force and fighting escalated in eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s effort to captureTripoli.

State oil company National Oil Corporation (NOC) said unknown gunmen fired a rocket propelled grenade at a control station in El Sharara oilfield. Guards at the site repelled the attackers, an oil engineer told Reuters.

There were no casualties and production was not affected, the NOC said in a statement.

OPEC member Libya’s oil output has been repeatedly disrupted by factional conflict and blockades since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar’s three-week-old offensive to seize Tripoli, seat of Libya’s internationally recognised government, sharpened a power struggle fracturing Libya since Gaddafi’s fall.

The assault by the Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), allied to a parallel government based in Benghazi, stalled on Tripoli’s stoutly defended southern outskirts last week.

Fighting intensified on Monday, with both sides using artillery. Shelling was heard in the centre of Tripoli from southern districts from morning until late at night, residents said.

The Tripoli forces as well as the LNA claimed progress on different parts of the front though the situation remained fluid.

A prominent commander from Misrata allied to Tripoli died, the LNA and some websites affiliated with armed groups in Misrata said.

No official confirmation was immediately available.

The battle for Tripoli killed at least 345, including 22 civilians, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said. A Tripoli hospital was evacuated after shelling shattered windows, the official tweeted.

The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR said 146 refugees, mainly Africans and a handful of Syrians, were evacuated to Italy, where asylum claims will be processed. Most were transferred earlier this month from detention centres near the fighting, a spokeswoman said.

More than three thousand migrants and refugees remain in detention centres near the Tripoli clashes, the UNHCR said.

OILFIELD SEEN AS VULNERABLE

It was unclear who the gunmen at El Sharara are affiliated to. The oilfield is in a south-western region held by forces loyal to Haftar.

State guards and local tribesmen shut down El Sharara in December to press financial demands before allowing production to restart in March.

The field, operated by the NOC and foreign partners, has been pumping crude intermittently due to blockades and other incidents.

UN officials say Haftar is backed militarily by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which want to build him up to help fight and neutralise Islamist militants in the region. His opponents see him as a budding autocrat in the Gaddafi mould.

Divisions among European and Gulf nations on how to deal with Haftar scuppered UN efforts to broker a ceasefire and prepare Libya for elections to help reunify the North African country.

France and the United States stand accused by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s government in Tripoli of playing both sides since Haftar launched his offensive. Paris backed Haftar efforts to curb radical Islamists while formally supporting Serraj’s UN-recognised government.

Serraj is backed emphatically by Italy, the former colonial power with oil assets in Libya and Turkey. Qatar, a UAE Gulf rival, supports Serraj.

UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, warned nations tempted to continue supporting Haftar he was no democrat and his political agenda was not favoured by most Libyans.

“He is no Abraham Lincoln, he is no big democrat, but has qualities and wants to unify the country,” Salame told France Inter radio.

Salame said his peace making effort was suffering from divisions in the UN Security Council that saw to a British draft resolution on stopping the Tripoli fighting blocked by Russia and the United States.