Haftar seizes oil terminals, raises stakes in Libya conflict
TUNIS - The tone of the opposition of Western powers backing Libya’s unity government to the seizure of the country’s key oil terminals by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces has become more strident than that of most staunch rivals of the anti-Islamist strongman in eastern Libya.
Oil ports at Ras Lanuf, Sidra and Zueitina were captured by forces under the command of Haftar, who opposes the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) and supports the rival government in the east.
While most of Haftar’s rivals called for dialogue and restraint to prevent a flare-up of violence after almost six years of chaos and strife in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, Western allies urged Haftar to withdraw his forces from the oil facilities.
Libyan analysts predicted the seizure of the oil outlets would be followed by intense fighting between Haftar’s camp, backed by anti-Islamist forces outside Tripoli and in the south, and the Islamist-camp backed by powerful militias in the capital and western regions.
Haftar is allied with Libya’s parliament, which is based in the country’s far east and has not approved the GNA in part because of differences over who commands the army.
The internationally recognised parliament Speaker Ageela Saleh said Haftar’s move was by “popular demand” and was endorsed by Libya’s legitimate institutions. He said Haftar “liberated the fields and the terminals from the occupiers and those hindering exports”, referring to militia commander Ibrahim Jadhran, who commands the Petroleum Facilities Guard.
Jadhran’s militia seized the oil terminals in 2013 and has tried to export illegally in the past. It is now allied with the UN-backed government.
Libya’s conflict has paralysed its once booming oil sector, denying the country an estimated $100 billion in revenues over the past three years because of Jadhran’s blockade.
The United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain said the GNA is the “sole steward of these resources”, adding that “Libya’s oil belongs to the Libyan people”.
Haftar’s forces handed over the oil facilities to the control of the National Oil Company, which is under the official umbrella of the GNA.
Libyan political activist Kamel al Houni said: “Haftar’s move could be the first step towards other rounds of war”. He said he sees two scenarios: either Misratan militias backed by the West launching a counteroffensive with GNA backing or Haftar pressing ahead towards Tripoli. “It is not clear which scenario could materialise first,” he said.