A huge fuel depot in Libya’s capital burned out of control on Monday as ongoing clashes between rebel groups that threat to plunge the country into a civil war hampered efforts to douse the flames engulfing the Tripoli facility.
State-owned National Oil Corp warned of a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe after the tank in southern Tripoli containing six million liters of fuel was set ablaze by rocket fire late on Sunday.
Libya’s government, which called for international help to try to contain the disaster, said at least two fuel containers had been set alight, warning that the situation of the fire was “very dangerous.”
Residents have been urged to evacuate areas within 5 kilometers of the blaze.
“Firefighters have been trying for hours to put out the blaze but to no avail. Their water reserves finally ran out and they've had to leave,” said NOC spokesman Mohammad al-Hrari.
He said the only option left was “intervention by air,” as the government said several countries had offered to send fire-fighting aircraft in response to an appeal for international aid.
The Tripoli clashes, the most violent since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, started with a July 13 assault on the airport by a coalition of groups, mainly Islamists.
Fighting was still raging early on Monday, with explosions heard from central Tripoli.
Foreign governments have urged nationals to leave Libya and have pulled diplomats out after two weeks of clashes among rival factions killed nearly 160 people in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
The Netherlands, the Philippines and Austria on Monday prepared to evacuate diplomatic staff. The United States, United Nations and Turkish embassies have already shut operations after the worst violence since the 2011 uprising.
Two rival brigades of former rebels fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport have pounded each other's positions with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons for two weeks, turning the south of the capital into a battlefield.
In the three messy years since the fall of Qaddafi, Libya’s fragile government and fledging army have been unable to control heavily armed former anti-Qaddafi fighters, who refuse to hand over weapons and continue to rule the streets.
Fears of spillover
Libya has appealed for international help to stop the country from becoming a failed state. Western partners fear chaos spilling across borders with arms smugglers and militants already profiting from the turmoil.
In neighboring Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly warned about militants capitalizing on Libya's chaos to set up bases along their mutual frontier, according to Reuters.
After the U.S. evacuation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the "free-wheeling militia violence" had been a real risk for American diplomats on the ground, and called for an end to the violence.
U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by militants along with three others in Benghazi in September 2012.
(With Reuters)SHOW MORE