SIRTE, Libya, Sept. 11 (UPI) — Forces backed by eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar attacked ports in the country’s oil-rich “oil crescent” Sunday and lit at least one oil storage tank on fire.
A port engineer confirmed Haftar loyalists entered oil ports in Ras Lanuf and Es Sider and lit a storage tank on fire in Sidra, Al Jazeera reported.
In addition to the ports, Haftar’s forces attacked the nearby town of Ajdabiya and clashes are ongoing, Petrol Facilities Guard spokesman Ali al-Hassi said.
The takeover of these two important ports is expected to deepen the turmoil in the North African nation’s oil industry, Bloomberg reported.
“This operation that was launched today aims to fully control the road between Es Sider to Qanfuda in Benghazi, which was occupied by militias to steal the nation’s wealth,” said national spokesman Col. Ahmed al-Masmari.
Haftar loyalists began wresting the terminals from Petroleum Facilities Guard, their one-time allies, after making their way into the central area known as the oil crescent and establishing themselves near the Zueitina terminal.
Haftar, a former general, declared a private war on radical Islamists in mid-2014 and refuses to recognize the national unity government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli, Libya’s capital.
Since output of oil has fallen to less than a quarter of its pre-2011 levels and since the fall five years ago of ruler Moammar Gadhafi, the oil industry has been the focus of competing forces.
The ports have both been closed since 2014, but the Petroleum Facilities Guard struck a deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli recently to reopen the ports and resume exports. But Hafar and other powerful influences opposed the measure.