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Eastern Libya forces launch airstrikes to retake oil port Open in fullscreen

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Eastern Libya forces launch airstrikes to retake oil port

Oil exports are Libya's main source of hard currency income [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 March, 2017

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Libyan fighters based in the east launched more airstrikes on Saturday against UN-recognised government troops that seized back oil terminals a day earlier, a spokesperson said.

The forces of eastern Libya's renegade general Khalifa Haftar launched more airstrikes on militias on Saturday that seized oil terminals a day earlier, a spokesperson said.

Three strikes hit vehicles and targets in the area around the al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf terminals, where at least nine soldiers were killed in Friday's attack that drove out the army troops despite earlier air strikes supporting them, Col. Ahmed Mismari said.

The army has deployed more forces in preparation of a counter-attack to drive out the militias - known as Benghazi Defence Brigades - which are comprised of Islamic militants and former rebels recently defeated by Haftar's forces in Benghazi, Libya' second largest city, he said.

They're also joined by militiamen from the western city of Misrata.

"This is a war against a whole region," he said, referring to Libya's east. "They will not win."

There are four ports along the "Oil Crescent" on the eastern part of the Gulf of Sirte, which account for the lion's share of Libya's oil exports.

Haftar's forces seized Zueitina, Brega, Ras Lanuf and al-Sidra in a lightning offensive last September that dealt a major blow to the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Exports from the four ports are the country's main source of hard currency income and without them, Libya's once huge currency reserves are being rapidly depleted.

Haftar dominates a rival administration based in the east that continues to defy the GNA's authority.

He has backing from neighbouring Egypt, the UAE and increasingly from Russia.

Russia has been trying to broker talks in Egypt between Haftar and the GNA that would see it reformed with a major role for the strongman, but so far, they have not borne fruit.

An array of forces - most of them loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli - have been involved in efforts to oust Haftar from the oil ports.

But the Tripoli government on Friday evening denied any involvement in the latest offensive, condemning it as a "military escalation".

Rocked by chaos since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya desperately needs to relaunch its oil exports, the backbone of its economy.

The GNA has struggled to impose its authority as it faces a multitude of battle-hardened fighters who took part in the uprising that ousted Gaddafi.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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