Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Oil depot fire amid Tripoli clashes

Fighters from the Islamist Misarata brigade fire towards Tripoli airport. (AP Photo/AP video)

The Libyan government has appealed for international help after an oil depot caught fire amid clashes over the country's international airport in Tripoli.

The interim government said in a statement posted on its website that the fighting between rival militias caused the blaze, which could trigger a "humanitarian and environmental disaster".

It appealed for "international help" but did not specify what sort of help it wants.

Libyan TV stations called on residents to evacuate areas within a three-mile radius of the airport. Many Libyan families responded to the call and scrambled to leave their homes.

Social networking sites posted images of black smoke billowing over the Tripoli skyline.

The battle for control of the airport began two weeks ago when Islamist-led militias - mostly from the western city of Misrata - launched a surprise assault on the airport, which has been under control of a rival militia from the western mountain town of Zintan.

The Health Ministry said the fighting has so far killed 79 people and wounded more than 400.

On Saturday, the United States evacuated its diplomats from Tripoli to neighbouring Tunisia and shut its embassy. The UN Support Mission in Libya and the International Committee of the Red Cross have already withdrawn their staff as well.

Mohammed al-Harari, the spokesman for the Libyan National Oil Company, said the oil depot on fire has a capacity of 6 million litres and that if the fire was not brought under control it could ignite nearby liquid gas storages.

Firefighting engines from several nearby cities and towns have been deployed to help extinguish the blaze, said a Libyan security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media. The fire, which he claimed was now under control, had also destroyed several government and private cars in the area.

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