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Libyan Fuel Depot Burns as Battle for Tripoli Airport Rages

On Sunday, a column of jet-black smoke could be seen rising from Tripoli’s main fuel depot, located close to the airport.

by Liz Fields
Aug 3 2014, 4:10pm

Photo via AP/Mohammed Ben Khalifa

At least 22 people were killed over the weekend as militant factions in Libya battled for control of Tripoli International Airport, sustaining the worst fighting the oil-rich African nation has seen since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi.

Fighters from Misrata are attacking the powerful Zintan militia, which currently controls the airport. On Sunday, a column of jet-black smoke could be seen rising from Tripoli’s main fuel depot, located close to the airport, after rocket strike ignited eight gas tanks on Saturday.

Firefighters are still working to extinguish the flames.

“Tripoli’s hospitals received 22 bodies and 72 people were wounded,” a Libyan government statementsaid. “Mediating committees are still trying to stop the violence and return Tripoli to normal. They have faced difficulties because of the stubbornness of the militias attacking the city.”

In recent weeks, more than 200 people have been killed across the country as a result of escalating warfare between powerful militias.

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The Libyan weakened government, unable to end the violence, has attempted to work alongside several factions (including putting some on state payroll) in an effort to quell hostilities.

News of the latest casualties from the continued fighting came hours after Libya’s newly elected government held its first session in parliament. Even as the lawmakers gathered in the city of Tobrouk, Islamist militias and former rebels united to seize control of a military base and drove government forces out of Benghazi.

The spiraling crisis has provoked a mass exodus of foreign diplomats and humanitarian agencies in the last two weeks.

US evacuates Libya embassy amid spiraling violence. Read more here.

On Friday, Britain, one of the last remaining Western embassies in the country, announced it would shutter its offices and withdraw personnel. Greece also moved to vacate its embassy staff and assisted nearly 200 people from Greece, China, and other countries to depart Libya in a naval vessel.

The closures come a week after the US evacuated around 150 embassy staff and security personnel and issued a travel warning recommending the immediate departure of its citizens from the country.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields