Cairo: Heavy gunfire between warring militias prevented firefighters from battling a massive inferno in Libya`s capital today, despite calls for a cease-fire to end the worst violence in the capital since the country`s 2011 civil war.
The blaze engulfing oil depots started in the crossfire of fighting over Tripoli`s international airport, a weekslong battle between rivals mirroring the militia violence that`s plagued the rest of Libya since the downfall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, Islamist-led militias said they also seized bases of a renegade general fighting against them today as a jet fighter crashed.
A cease-fire deal mediated by Tripoli`s City Council fell apart hours after they declared it, leaving council members pleading with the militias to withdraw from at least a 3-kilometre radius to allow firefighters to fight the blaze.
The government ordered firefighters to withdraw amid new clashes. Gunfire struck a fourth oil tank today, but it didn`t catch on fire, said Samir Kamal, a senior official with Libya`s state-run oil company.
Kamal said up to 80 million litres of oil and liquid natural gas are in the area, as well as gas cylinders used for cooking.
"We are afraid that if fire sweeps the whole area ... (there will be) huge explosions that can impact lives of residents living in a 5-kilometre radius of the tanks," he said.
The clashes forced authorities to shut down the airport earlier this month after it was devastated in shelling. The Health Ministry said that 97 people have been killed and more than 400 were wounded in the fighting. Libya`s interim government has appealed for "international help" to extinguish the inferno.
The fighting has prompted many diplomats and foreigners to flee the country, including the U.S. Ambassador in Libya and United Nations staff.
A Spanish military plane evacuated 60 people from Libya, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The Spanish ambassador will remain in Tripoli with a reduced support staff.
"Spain will not close its embassy in Tripoli as a show of support for the Libyan transition, its institutions and solidarity with the Libyan people in these times of crisis," the statement said.