East Libya forces prepare to retake key oil ports

Benghazi - Forces loyal to eastern Libya's strongman Khalifa Haftar said on Monday they were preparing a large counter-offensive to retake key oil export terminals days after losing them to rival fighters.

"Libyan forces are mobilising in great numbers to chase terrorist gangs from the Oil Crescent," said Mohamad Ghanim, a spokesperson for the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army.

On Friday the Islamist-led Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) seized the key oil terminals of Ras Lanuf, which also includes an airport, and Al-Sidra in the Oil Crescent.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces have since carried out air strikes on BDB positions, but have not succeeded in repelling them.

Colonel Ahmad al-Mismari, a spokesperson for the LNA, said fresh strikes on Monday hit vehicles of the Islamist militia, which controlled Libya's second city Benghazi until Haftar's forces ousted them from nearly all of it in an offensive started in 2014.

In September, pro-Haftar forces captured Ras Lanuf, Al-Sidra and two other eastern oil ports in a blow to the authority of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli.

Haftar backs a rival administration in the country's far east that has refused to cede power to the Government of National Accord since it started working last year.

The eastern administration has accused the GNA's Defence Minister Al-Mahdi al-Barghathi, who is known for being hostile to Haftar, of backing the BDB.

But the minister on Monday denied the accusations.

"Those who are responsible for what is happening in the oil fields are those who have confiscated the real will of the Libyan people," Barghathi said.

"It shows nobody can control Libya by force," he said, in an apparent reference to Haftar, whose critics have accused him of wanting to install a military regime in the oil-rich country.

Barghathi's comments came after the Tripoli government on Friday denied any involvement in the offensive against the Oil Crescent, and condemning it as a "military escalation".

Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

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