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Haftar’s eastern forces strike near Libyan oil field in 'warning'

Warning directed at commander allied with internationally recognised Tripoli government, while Haftar backs parallel administration in east
Forces loyal to Libyan commander Haftar on recent patrol of Sebha, biggest city in southern Libya (AFP)

Eastern Libyan forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar carried out four air strikes near the El Feel oil field as a warning to a rival commander, a field engineer told Reuters on Saturday.

The warning strikes were directed at commander Ali Kennah, who was inside the compound at the time, the engineer said. Kennah is allied to the internationally recognised Tripoli government (GNA), while Haftar backs a parallel administration in the east.

Kennah, the commander of the Sabha military zone who served under deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi, was appointed by Prime Minister Fayez Seraj last week. Fayez leads the GNA.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) targeted the oil field 750 kilometres (465 miles) southwest of Tripoli, where a civilian plane was preparing to take off for the capital, AFP said.

Khalifa Haftar (AFP/file photo)
Khalifa Haftar (AFP/file photo)

The fractured political climate has caused significant disruption to the country's oil industry. State oil firm NOC, which runs the El Feel field with foreign partners, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Pro-LNA media quoted military officials saying the action was a "warning strike" that had not caused any damage.

But the country's UN-backed unity government said the plane was carrying wounded people and called the strike a "terrorist act" and a "crime against humanity".

It did not give further details on the identity of those on board.

The Tripoli-based GNA administration said it would inform the UN Security Council of the "grave violation" of international law.

Haftar is a dominant figure in Eastern Libya where his LNA seized the second-largest city of Benghazi in 2017 by expelling Islamist fighters and others.

His forces in mid-January announced the start of an offensive intended to "purge the south of terrorists and criminal groups", including rebels from Chad.

It warned earlier this week that "any landing or take-off from airports in the south was prohibited" without its authorisation.

The LNA said on Wednesday that it had seized one of the country's biggest oil fields, about 900km south of Tripoli, without a fight.

The Al-Sharara field had been shut down for almost two months by armed groups, which complain of marginalisation by Libya's GNA government. 

Haftar’s forces have also occupied a pumping station 20km from the main El Sharara field, but not the rest of the 315,000 barrels a day site, according to a field engineer.

The El Feel field is located in the same southwestern region and is still producing crude, usually around 70,000 barrels a day.