Eastern Libya forces strike from air, aim to retake oil site

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan armed forces based in the east launched more airstrikes Saturday against militias that seized oil terminals a day earlier, a spokesman said, accusing troops from the country's rival west of launching a war.

Three strikes hit vehicles and targets in the area around the al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf terminals, where at least nine soldiers were killed in Friday's attack that drove out the army troops despite earlier air strikes supporting them, Col. Ahmed Mosmary, spokesman for forces commanded by army chief Gen. Khalifa Hifter said.

The army has deployed more forces in preparation of a counterattack to drive out the militias, known as Benghazi Defense Brigades, which are comprised of Islamic militants and former rebels recently defeated by Hifter's forces in Benghazi, Libya' second largest city, he said. They're also joined by militiamen from the western city of Misrata.

"This is a war against a whole region," he said, referring to Libya's east. "They will not win."

Hifter's army is allied to the internationally-recognized parliament based in eastern Libya. The internationally-recognized government based in the capital Tripoli — which is opposed to Hifter— has condemned the fighting and says it has no role in it, according to a statement released by the so-called Presidency Council, the United Nations-brokered body tasked to form the government and which enjoys presidential powers.

Libya has descended into chaos since the 2011 civil war, which ended with the killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country has been split into two competing parliaments and governments in the east and west, each backed by a set of militias, tribes and political factions.

It was not the first time the oil terminals have changed hands in the past three years, heavily impacting production that was finally increasing and had reached 700,000 barrels a day in February.

The militias' occupation of the terminals has stoked fears that the facilities could sustain serious damage if clashes escalate.

The eastern forces have said that some 1,000 militiamen in 200 vehicles took over the terminals and were joined by fighters loyal to eastern militia commander Ibrahim Jedran, a secessionist fighter who took over and oversaw the terminals until Hifter's forces seized them last year.

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