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July 23, 2017

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Foreigners staying in Libya urged to escape as violence increases

TRIPOLI, Libya--Egypt and several Western states urged their nationals to leave Libya amid spiraling violence after two weeks of fighting left 97 people dead and a warning by state-owned National Oil Corp. of a major disaster after a fuel tank was hit.

Washington evacuated its embassy staff on Saturday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning the mission had faced a "real risk" from fierce fighting between armed groups for control of Tripoli's international airport.

The Tripoli clashes, the most violent since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, started with an assault on the airport by a coalition of groups, mainly Islamists, which has since been backed by fighters from third city Misrata.

Firefighters on Monday failed to extinguish a blaze at an oil depot on the outskirts of Tripoli, sparking fears of a huge fireball that could cause carnage over a wide area.

The authorities rushed to evacuate people from their homes in the area along the road to the airport, where rival militias have been fighting each other for the past two weeks.

The depot, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Libyan capital, caught fire on Sunday when it was hit by rockets fired by the combatants, who are jostling for control of the airport.

Containing six million liters of fuel, the plant was burning steadily and the authorities feared the blaze could spread to a natural gas reservoir in the same plant, run by state-owned National Oil Corp., where 90 million liters are stored.

"There is a risk of a massive explosion which could cause damage over a radius of three to five kilometers," spokesman Mohamed al-Hrari said.

"Firefighters have been trying for hours to put out the blaze but to no avail. Their water reserves finally ran out and they've had to leave."

He said the only option left was "intervention by air," as the government said several countries had offered to send fire-fighting aircraft in response to an appeal for international aid.

Fighting in the area has claimed the lives of 97 people and left more than 400 injured, according to the latest figures released by the health ministry.

Egypt's foreign ministry said a rocket hit a house in Tripoli on Saturday, killing 23 people, including several Egyptians.

"There are 23 people dead after a Grad rocket fell on a house in Tripoli. Some of them are Egyptians, but we don't know how many," ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told AFP.

Foreigners Leaving

Cairo called on "all Egyptian nationals in Tripoli and Benghazi to immediately leave and save themselves from this chaotic internal fighting."

The foreign ministry said they should seek "safer areas in Libya or head to the Libya-Tunisia border."

There were an estimated 1.5 million Egyptians in Libya before Kadhafi's ouster. About two-thirds left during the war but many returned in 2012.

Also on Sunday, a British embassy convoy was fired on in a suspected attempted carjacking in western Tripoli. There were no casualties, a spokesman for London's mission in Libya said.

"Shots were fired at our vehicles but they managed to drive on and leave the area," Bob Phillipson said.

The violence prompted Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands to join Washington in urging their citizens to leave as soon as possible, after the U.S. pulled out its diplomatic staff under air cover on Saturday.

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