Tripoli Clashes Toll Rises by 22 as Libya Crisis Deepens

Aug 03, 2014 10:35 am ET

(Updates with U.K. Navy evacuation of citizens in first paragraph and fourth.)

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Britain dispatched its navy to evacuate its nationals from Libya as 22 other people were killed as a result of militia feuds near Tripoli’s international airport that have plunged the oil producer deeper into chaos.

The U.K.’s move came as the government announced the latest death toll today, a day after most members of the North African country’s new legislature met in the city of Tobruk near the Egyptian border. It was their first meeting as a unit since elections were held to replace the General National Congress.

The choice of venue for the House of Representatives’ first session, which was delayed until Monday, reflects concerns about the collapse of security in Tripoli and in Benghazi, the nation’s second-largest city. More than two weeks of fighting between rival militias, and pro- and anti-Islamists have left about 200 dead and hundreds more wounded, according to state media.

The violence marks the most severe escalation of tensions in Libya since the 2011 ouster and killing of Muammar Qaddafi. Embassies from around the world, including the U.S., have suspended operations, withdrawn staff and sought to evacuate their citizens by ship or across the land border with Tunisia amid signs the OPEC producer may be sliding toward civil war.

Britain’s HMS Enterprise arrived in Tripoli to evacuate British nationals, the Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. Greece on Aug. 1 evacuated some of its nationals, along with other foreigners.

Battered Aircraft

The latest death toll was based on bodies received yesterday by hospitals in the capital Tripoli, according to the government’s announcement. Militias have been battling at the country’s main international airport, where rocket attacks and shelling have damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the planes parked there, the state-run Libya News Agency reported. The control tower was also struck and fuel storage tanks set ablaze, the news agency said.

The fighting at the airport pits pro-Islamist forces against a militia that has been guarding the facility and which is loosely aligned with a renegade general opposed to Islamists. A similar showdown in the eastern city of Benghazi has left scores dead, with the latest serious clashes erupting after Islamists attacked and overran army bases held by General Khalifa Haftar’s troops.

‘Deteriorating’ Conditions

The government’s statement, posted on its Facebook page, said efforts to broker a cease-fire in Tripoli face “obstacles” as a result of the “stubbornness of the groups attacking the city and them being unresponsive to repeated calls to consider the deteriorating humanitarian condition of the population of the capital.”

The government said it has been working to address the plight of residents, including those displaced by fighting. The conflict has prompted at least one hospital to declare force majeure in the past week as foreign staff fled the country, state media reported.

Libya holds Africa’s largest crude reserves and produced almost 1.6 million barrels a day of oil before Qaddafi’s death. Earlier this year, Libya became the smallest supplier in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and shipped 300,000 barrels a day in June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

--With assistance from Tamim Elyan in Cairo.