29 July 2014

Libya Says Italy to Help Fight Depot Blaze

Photo: Mohammed El Shaiky/Xinhua
A scene of clashes in Benghazi, Libya.

Libya says seven fire-fighting planes are being sent by Italy and the Italian energy giant ENI to douse the inferno at a Tripoli oil depot. Fighting between militias nearby has prompted more residents to flee.

Tunisian media said Tuesday that thousands of Libyans had crossed into Tunisia to escape crossfire near Tripoli rival militias that sparked the depot blaze. The fire had spread to a second storage site on Monday.

Libya's interim government said the Italian government and ENI were sending the planes to stem the blaze. It began on Sunday night, when a rocket hit a large fuel container, compounding two weeks of fighting between the rival militias near Tripoli's main airport.

Flights have been suspended. A local air base was used instead on Monday.

France, Portugal and the Netherlands became on Tuesday the latest nations to ship out their citizens or close their embassies in Tripoli. Canada, too, said it was pulling out its diplomatic staff.

Many other nations, including the Philippines, US and Austria, have already initiated evacuations.

Last weekend, Britain, Germany and Egypt were advising their nationals to leave immediately.

The Libyan government called on the rival militias to agree on a ceasefire. The al-Wasat news website claimed that a deal had been reached to enable firefighters to put out the depot blaze.

Tunisia's state-run news agency TAP said Tuesday that some 6,000 people had crossed the border into Tunisia on Monday to escape the fighting.

From Libya's second city of Benghazi on Tuesday, medical sources said at least 30 people had been killed during heavy overnight clashes between Islamist fighters and government special forces.

A spokesman for the renegade army general Khalifa Hifter said a Libyan fighter jet also crashed in the Benghazi area due to a "technical failure." Its pilot had escaped by parachute.

Libya's current violence amounts to the worst chaos since the 2011 civil war that ended in the ouster and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The exodus of foreign workers will further hit Libya, with its health ministry warning of a shortage of medical staff. The Philippines said its withdrawal included 3,000 doctors and other healthcare workers.

- AFP, Reuters, dpa

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