Monday, 28 July 2014

Major fire out of control at Libya's largest oil storage facility.

A fire is burning out of control at a fuel storage facility in Tripoli, after a tank holding 6 million liters of oil was hit by a rocket during fighting between militia groups on Sunday 27 July 2014. The fire was initially brought under control by firefighters, but the were forced to withdraw when fighting resumed early on Monday 28 July, shortly after which a second oil tank was ignited by shrapnel. The fire is now described by the Libyan National Oil Company as 'out of control', provoking fears of a major explosion or environmental catastrophe. Local officials are recommending that residents evacuate the area within five kilometers of the facility, but with ongoing fighting in the area it is unclear whether many people will be able to comply.

Smoke from the burning storage facility hangs over Tripoli. Reuters.

Fighting between militia groups has occurred sporadically since the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, as the various groups that took part in the regime change had little in common and since then have been engaged in an uneasy truce with intervals of open conflict. The situation appears to have deteriorated markedly during the past two weeks, with over 100 people killed in Tripoli alone, including 23 Egyptian migrant workers in a single incident. Turkey, the United States and the United Nations have begun to evacuate their diplomatic staff, while Britain, France Germany and Spain are recommending their nationals to leave.

The fire at the oil terminal appears to have been caused by fighting over control of the cities airport, between the Zintan Militia (a regional militia from the Zintan Mountains), who have held the airport since the revolution, and the Islamist Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, who were formerly responsible for policing and security within the capitol and Benghazi, but who were stripped of their authority in October 2013 after attempting to kidnap Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, apparently as part of a botched coup attempt in which other militia groups may-or-may-not have been planning to join, and who are now engaged in an escalating conflict with other groups.

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