Clashes in east Libya force oil port closure

Islamist fighters clash with pro-government forces for the second consecutive day as they press an advance on a key oil region in eastern Libya

Libya's eastern Es Sider oil export port has stopped working due to clashes nearby, according to an oil official.

The Ras Lanuf port, east of Es Sider, is still working, the official told Reuters news agency on Sunday, but al-Waha Oil Company which runs the Es Sider port had halted work.

Armed groups on Saturday launched an attack against al-Hilal, a key oil region in the country.

Fighters from Libya Dawn, an anti-government coalition, attacked al-Hilal from three sides on Saturday but the air force repelled them, Brigadier-General Saqr Jarushi said.

"Air force jets and helicopters struck the fighters as they advanced on Al-Sidra oil terminal," he said, adding that the air raids had caused "a large number of casualties".

Islamist commander Tareq Shanina was quoted by a news agency linked to the group saying that his men "advanced toward Al-Sidra" and were coming under air attack from pro-government forces.

Shanina said Libya Dawn fired anti-aircraft guns in response.

There was also fighting on the ground in which five government soldiers were reported wounded.

Earlier Fajr Libya said it had launched an operation to "liberate oilfields and terminals" and that two of its fighters were killed and several wounded.

Al-Hilal is the location not only of Al-Sidra but also of the Ras Lanuf and Brega terminals.

The attack comes as rebel forces in the eastern town of Derna say they have formed a new coalition before an expected assault by pro-government forces.

In a separate development, at least 17 Libya Dawn militiamen were killed in an air strike by pro-government forces near the Ras Jedir border crossing with Tunisia, a military source said.

The military source, who declined to be named, said Sunday’s air raid near Ras Jedir was carried out by forces loyal to anti-Islamist ex-general Khalifa Haftar who is fighting to crush Islamists who control swathes of Libya.

More than three years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya remains awash with weapons and powerful militias, and has rival governments and parliaments.

Self-declared Islamist groups have seized Tripoli and second city Benghazi in the east, and forces loyal to Abdullah al-Thinni, Libya's internationally recognised prime minister, are fighting to regain control of them.

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