By Patrick Markey
Warplanes from Libya’s internationally recognised government carried out air strikes on a Tripoli airport on Thursday just hours before United Nations-backed peace talks were due to start in Morocco.
Libya has two rival governments with armed forces battling for control of the North African state, where Islamist militants are also profiting from turmoil to gain ground four years after the civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
The North African OPEC state declared force majeure and halted production on 11 oilfields late on Wednesday because of deteriorating security after Islamist fighters overran the Bahi and Mabrouk fields in the central Sirte basin.
The jets attacking Tripoli hit an open area near the runway at Maitiga airport, but caused no major damage and the airport was operating normally, a security source at the airport said.
“We, the dignity forces, conducted airstrikes this morning on Maitiga airport. We will never stop until we liberate Tripoli from militias,” Mohammed Hejazi, a spokesman for the forces, told Reuters, refering to rival faction Libya Dawn.
Most diplomats and foreign companies pulled out of Libya in the summer when fighting escalated. Libya Dawn, an alliance of former rebel brigades mostly loyal to Misrata city, took over the capital and set up its own self-declared government.
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s internationally recognized government and the elected House of Representatives now operate out of the east. They are backed by fighters from Zintan in the west, and by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who began a campaign against Islamist militants.
Delegates from the two factions are holding UN-backed peace talks in Morocco on Thursday to try to resolve the crisis, form a unity government, broker a ceasefire and put Libya’s transition back on track. Previous rounds of talks made little concrete progress and fighting has worsened.
Libya declared force majeure on Wednesday at the Mabrouk, Bahi, Dahra, Jufra, Tibesti, Ghani, En Nagha, Al-Samah,Beda,Waha, and Defa oil fields.
That move came after Islamist militants, claiming loyalty to Islamic State, attacked three fields. Mabrouk and Bahi fields have been overrun and destroyed, one security official tied to the recognized government said.
A third oilfield al-Dahra, was caught up in clashes on Wednesday. Officials were not immediately able to give details on its status on Thursday.
Libya’s production is currently around 400,000 barrels per day, less than half the 1.6 million bpd it produced before the NATO-backed war that ousted Gaddafi in 2011.