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Huge Fuel Fire Burns 'Out of Control' During Fighting at Tripoli Airport

A massive blaze in a gas tank is threatening to spread, and has rendered the airport useless as foreign embassies try to evacuate Libya.
July 28, 2014, 4:23pm
Photo via AP

Following two weeks of intense fighting between rebel factions in Libya, a tank of 1.6 million gallons of gasoline near Tripoli International Airport was struck by a rocket, igniting a huge blaze and threatening to spread to the combined 23.7 million gallons of fuel held in the same complex.

A National Oil Company (NOC) spokesman said today that the fire was “out of control,” adding that a second gas tank had been hit, and that firefighters left area when skirmishes resumed. The size of the second fuel tank is unclear.


Tripoli — James Wheeler (@wheelertweets)July 28, 2014

The recent fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi has left about 160 people dead, with local Misrata militias battling the Zintan faction, which currently controls the airport.

Libya has requested international aid to assist with halting the fire and preventing it spreading, with potentially disastrous consequences.

This blaze has halted international flights, further exacerbating the tense situation as embassies and foreign nationals rush to evacuate the country. Some planes have been leaving from Mitiga International Airport, about 23 miles north of Tripoli's main airport.

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"This crisis is causing lots of confusion, lots of foreigners are leaving and diplomats are also departing through here," said Mitiga security controller Salah Qahdrah.

Though many countries had already evacuated their embassies, Austria, the Netherlands, and the Philippines plan to do so today. The US embassy evacuated on Saturday morning by way of the Tunisian border and the UN undertook a temporary evacuation on July 10.

Libya’s central government has remained weak after the 2011 uprising and subsequent overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, and differing groups of anti-Qaddafi rebels have retained weapons and some political control.

Fighting has centered in Tripoli and Benghazi, where General Khalifa Hifter, the leader of a nationalist faction, has pledged to fight Islamist extremists.

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Follow Jordan Larson on Twitter: @jalarsonist