* Italy, ENI oil firm help battle Tripoli fuel blaze
* Benghazi forces battle militants for control of base
* Foreign diplomats fleeing chaos in Tripoli
By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya, July 29 Libyan forces on
Tuesday battled Islamist militants with rockets and warplanes
for control of an army base in the eastern city of Benghazi
after at least 30 people were killed in overnight fighting.
Intense fighting in Benghazi, Libya's second city, and
battles between rival militias in the capital Tripoli have
pushed Libya deeper into chaos after two weeks of the fiercest
violence since the 2011 civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
Foreign states followed the United States and the United
Nations in pulling diplomats out of the North African
oil-producing state after clashes between two rival brigades of
former anti-Gaddafi fighters closed Tripoli's international
A rocket hit a fuel depot near Tripoli airport two days ago,
igniting a huge blaze that Libyan fire-fighters on Tuesday were
fighting to put out. Italy's government and Italian oil group
ENI had agreed to help them, the government said.
Three years after Gaddafi's fall, the OPEC nation has failed
to control ex-rebel militias who refuse to disband and who are
threatening the unity of the country. The extent of recent
hostilities has increased Western worries that Libya is sliding
towards becoming a failed state and may once again go to war.
In Benghazi, battles have intensified since special forces
and regular air force units joined ranks with a renegade army
general, Khalifa Haftar, who launched a campaign against
Islamist militants entrenched in the city, the home of the
revolution against Gaddafi's more than 40-year rule.
"Groups of terrorists calling themselves al-Shoura Council
Forces are attacking the government's main military base,"
Colonel Wanis Bukhamada, a special forces spokesman in Benghazi,
told Reuters. "We have received 30 corpses so far," a medical
source told Reuters at Benghazi's main hospital.
Islamist fighters from one of those groups, Ansar al Sharia,
classified as a foreign terrorist organisation by Washington,
have been blamed by authorities for carrying out the attack on
the U.S. Benghazi consulate in 2012 in which the U.S. ambassador
MILITIAS FIGHT FOR UPPER HAND
A government MiG warplane crashed during Tuesday's fighting
in Benghazi. A Reuters reporter saw the pilot parachuting to
ground after hearing an explosion. A spokesman for Haftar's
forces said it was due to a technical problem.
Eastern Libya, where some of the country's major oil ports
are concentrated, was where opposition to Gaddafi was strongest.
While tribal lifestyles declined in Libya as the country's
growing oil wealth meant people moved into towns, traditional
power structures within this nation of about six million people
remained strong beneath the surface.
Gaddafi's strategy effectively amounted to a system of
divide and rule, buying off established tribal leaders.
In Egypt, the army proved to be the supreme political force
but in the post-Gaddafi era powerful militias have taken over
fighting for power, influence and oil wealth.
Tripoli was quieter on Tuesday than over the last fortnight
during which the two brigades of former rebels, mainly from the
towns of Zintan and Misrata, have pounded each other's positions
with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons, turning the south
of the capital into a battlefield.
At least 160 people have died in Tripoli and Benghazi during
the clashes in the two cities, according to the health ministry.
FUEL TANKS ABLAZE
A spokesman for the National Oil Corporation said on Tuesday
the armed factions in Tripoli had agreed to a brief cease-fire
to allow emergency services to fight the blazing fuel storage
tanks containing millions of litres of fuel.
The tanks are operated by Brega oil company, which is owned
by NOC, and store oil for local consumption in Libya.
Black smoke was billowing from one of the tanks hit by a
rocket on Sunday near the airport road. The highway and
surrounding areas were empty after homes in the area were
evacuated, except for occasional militia roadblocks.
Fire-fighters were spraying the area with water to cool down
storage depots near the fuel tank that was set ablaze to try to
extinguish the inferno.
Italy, the former colonial power, and Italy's Eni
have agreed to help Libya to counter the blaze, Libya's
government said in a statement without giving further details.
Libya formally requested aid from France to fight the blaze,
the French foreign ministry said. France, which has told its
citizens to leave the country, has yet to ask its embassy staff
The United States, whose embassy is near to the contested
airport, evacuated its embassy staff in Tripoli on Saturday,
driving diplomats across the border into Tunisia under heavy
military guard including air support from warplanes.
Britain, other European governments, Turkey and the
Philippines have also pulled out diplomatic staff or left just a
few representatives behind in Tripoli, where the violence is
also causing fuel and power shortages.
France and Spain on Tuesday were evacuating more nationals
and some diplomats from Tripoli, according to LANA state news
agency. Canada is temporarily pulling its diplomats due to fears
about their safety, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.
Despite the chaos, Libya's oil production last week was
around 500,000 barrels per day. That was up from earlier this
year when unrest pushed output down to as low as around 200,000
bpd, but still below the usual 1.4 million bpd.
(Reporting By Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi, Patrick Markey and
Aziz El Yaakoubi in Tripoli; editing by Peter Millership)