* Strikes hit Tripoli airport, eastern oil ports
* UN negotiations to resume in Morocco this week
* UN: Both sides acknowledge need for united front
(Adds oilfield details)
By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 3 Rival Libyan forces
carried out tit-for-tat air strikes on oil terminals and an
airport on Tuesday, escalating their battle for control of the
oil-producing country days before United Nations peace talks are
to resume in Morocco.
Islamist militants, who have gained ground in Libya's
turmoil, on Tuesday also took over Libya's Bahi oil station and
the Mabrouk oilfield, after forces guarding the installations
were forced to retreat from the empty operations.
The United Nations called for hostilities to end before
negotiations it hopes will stop fighting between Libya's two
rival governments four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Oil installations and key infrastructure are prime targets
in the conflict, pitting Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni's
internationally recognised government against Libya Dawn, the
group which took Tripoli last year and formed its own
A warplane belonging to forces allied to Libya Dawn bombed
the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sidra, causing minor damage,
according to a security official with Thinni's government.
"The rockets fell near the tanks, resulting in only minor
damage," said Ali Hassi, a spokesman for the forces guarding
Libya's oil infrastructure.
Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf, which make up half of Libya's oil
output when operating normally, shut down in December due to the
conflict. Libya currently produces around 400,000 barrels of oil
per day, compared to 1.6 million bpd before Gaddafi was toppled.
Warplanes also hit Maitiga, Tripoli's airport, air force
commander Saqir El-Jaroshi said. There were plans for strikes
against the airport of port city Misrata, a base of Libya Dawn.
Jaroshi said the strikes were retaliation for Tripoli forces
bombing Zintan, a town loyal to Thinni's government, and to stop
suspected supplies to Islamist militants.
A source at Maitiga said a warplane struck near the runway
but did not cause major damage. Most international airlines
stopped flying to Libya and foreign diplomats were pulled out as
fighting worsened last year.
Security spokesman Hassi said Islamist militants had taken
over the Bahi oil pumping station and Mabrouk oilfield. Both
operations were empty, their staff evacuated.
A spokesman for the National Oil Corporation did not respond
to requests for confirmation. When it was operating, Mabrouk
produced around 40,000 barrels a day of crude.
Militants in Libya claiming ties to Islamic State in Iraq
and Syria have carried out high profile attacks which have
raised fears the country has become a haven for extremists, just
across the Mediterranean from mainland Europe.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum in
Tripoli; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Ralph Boulton)