Guards repel assault on Libya’s biggest oilfield

Libyan National Army (LNA) members head out of Benghazi to reinforce troops advancing toward Tripoli. (Reuters/File photo)
Updated 29 April 2019

Guards repel assault on Libya’s biggest oilfield

  • Attack on El Sharara highlights risks to oil production
  • Battle intensifies in eastern force’s bid to seize capital

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya: An armed group attacked Libya’s largest oilfield but was repelled after clashes with its protection force on Monday, while fighting escalated in eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar’s effort to capture the capital, Tripoli.
The state oil company NOC said unknown gunmen fired a rocket propelled grenade at a control station of El Sharara oil field. Guards at the oilfield eventually repelled the attackers, an oil engineer there told Reuters.
There were no casualties among oil workers and production was unaffected, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) said in a statement.
OPEC member Libya’s oil output has been repeatedly disrupted by factional conflict and blockades since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Haftar’s three-week-old offensive to seize Tripoli, seat of Libya’s internationally recognized government, has sharpened a power struggle that has fractured Libya since Qaddafi’s fall.
The assault by the Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a parallel government based in the eastern city of Benghazi, stalled on Tripoli’s stoutly defended southern outskirts last week.
But fighting intensified again on Monday, with heavy shelling, small-arms fire and a warplane all heard in the center of Tripoli coming from southern districts, residents said. No more details were immediately available.
The LNA carried out an air raid overnight on at least one target south of Tripoli, residents said, though it was less intense than one on Saturday night.
The battle for Tripoli has killed 345 people, 22 of them civilians, a World Health Organization official said on Monday. A hospital in Tripoli was evacuated after shelling shattered some windows, he added in a tweet.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said 146 refugees, mainly Africans and a handful of Syrians, were evacuated on Monday from Libya to Italy, where their asylum claims will be processed. Most of them had been transferred earlier this month from detention centers near the fighting, a spokeswoman said.
But 3,300 migrants and refugees remain trapped in detention centers near the Tripoli clashes, the UNHCR said.
“It’s now crucial that other States match this gesture and offer similar evacuation places for refugees caught up in the conflict,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

Vulnerable oilfield
It was not clear who the gunmen who targeted El Sharara were affiliated to. The oilfield is in a southwestern region held by forces loyal to Haftar.
State guards and local tribesmen shut down El Sharara in December to press financial demands before allowing production to reopen in March. The field, operated by the NOC and foreign partners, has been pumping crude only intermittently due to blockades mostly by armed groups and other incidents.
UN officials say Haftar is backed militarily by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which want to build him up to help fight and neutralize Islamist militants in the region. His opponents see him as a budding new autocrat in Qaddafi’s mold.
Divisions among European and Gulf nations over how to deal with Haftar have scuppered UN efforts to broker a cease-fire between the main factions to prepare Libya for elections to help reunify the country.
France and the United States been accused by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj’s government in Tripoli of playing both sides since Haftar launched his offensive. Paris has backed Haftar’s efforts to curb radical Islamists while at the same time formally supporting Serraj’s UN-recognized government.
Serraj is backed emphatically by Italy, the former colonial power that has oil assets in Libya, and Turkey. Qatar, a Gulf rival of the UAE, also supports Serraj.
UN Libya peace envoy Ghassan Salame warned nations tempted to continue supporting Haftar that he was no democrat and his political agenda was not favored by most Libyans.
“He is no Abraham Lincoln, he is no big democrat, but he has qualities and wants to unify the country,” Salame told France Inter radio, referring to the president who steered United States through its Civil War, preserving the union, and abolished slavery.
Salame said his peacemaking effort was suffering from deep divisions within the UN Security Council that led to a British draft resolution on stopping the fighting over Tripoli being blocked last week by Russia and the United States.


Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

Updated 25 August 2019

Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

  • Iranian foreign ministry says Zarif will not hold talks with Trump and his team
  • Earlier Trump dampened down Emmanuel Macron's optimism on Iran talks

BIARRITZ, France: -Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in the French seaside resort of Biarritz Sunday for talks during a G7 summit.

"Zarif... has arrived in Biarritz, where the G7 is being held, to continue talks regarding the recent measures between the presidents of Iran and France," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, referring to their efforts to salvage a nuclear deal.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran on Sunday, saying that while he was happy for President Emmanuel Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.
European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran’s internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Macron, who has pushed mediation efforts in recent weeks to avoid a further deterioration in the region, had told LCI television that the G7 had agreed on joint action on Iran.
The French presidency said G7 leaders had even agreed that Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran after they discussed the issue over dinner at a summit in southwestern France on Saturday evening.
However, Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, pushed back.
Asked if he had signed off on a statement that Macron intends to give on behalf of the G7 on Iran, Trump said:
“I haven’t discussed this. No I haven’t,” he told reporters, adding that Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were free to talk to Iran.
“We’ll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
Macron, who has taken the lead to defuse tensions fearing that a collapse of the nuclear deal could set ablaze the Middle East, met Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss proposals that could ease the crisis, including the idea of reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.
Macron appeared to backtrack on his own team’s comments later, saying there was no formal mandate from the G7 leaders to pass a message to Iran.
Highlighting just how difficult agreeing on concrete measures between allies is, Macron said the leaders’ views had converged on not wanting Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb and ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.
He was supposed to discuss those ideas with Trump on the sidelines of the G7, which also comprises Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU.
“Everyone wants to avoid a conflict, Donald Trump was extremely clear on that point,” Macron told LCI.
“We have to continue to take initiatives and in the coming weeks that on the one hand there are no more Iranian decisions that contradict this objective and that we open new negotiations,” Macron said without giving details.
In response to the tougher US sanctions and what it says is the inability of European powers party to the deal — France, Britain and Germany, to compensate it for its lost oil revenue, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.
The United States has made no indication it will ease any sanctions and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.
Macron has also said that in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.