Libya’s deepening split finds battleground at oil terminals

Struggle for Ras Lanuf refinery and nearby Sidr depot threatens to spiral into all-out conflict between Libya’s east and west.

Hundreds if not thousands of armed men are converging on Libya’s main oil shipping terminals, which the rival powers in the country’s east and west are fighting to control in a battle being watched by global oil markets.

The struggle for the Ras Lanuf refinery and nearby Sidr depot threatens to spiral into an all-out conflict between east and west. Already, it has seen the bloodiest fighting yet between the two camps: Around 40 troops from the east were killed over four days as militias backed by western factions stormed the area last Friday, losing a handful of casualties.

Now forces from the east loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar are massing nearby, threatening a new assault to wrest back the facilities, which are nominally in the hands of the Tripoli government.

In another worrying step, the eastern parliament last Tuesday voted to withdraw support from the United Nations peace deal that created the Tripoli government in January 2016 in hopes of ending years of chaos in the North African country. The withdrawal of support further undermines the government, which has had difficulty asserting authority even in Tripoli.

The following is a look at the Libyan players, the oil terminals at the centre of the fight and what could happen next: