x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Qaddafi vows to fight on as loyalists strike oil hub

Deposed leader hits out at 'traitors' as 15 rebels are killed in attack on a key oil facility.

Civilians flee from the besieged city of Bani Walid, Libya, yesterday. According to media sources, Libyan rebels said they were delaying assault on Bani Walid, one of the last bastions of fugitive leader Muammar Qaddafi after meeting fierce resistance. MOHAMMED MESSARA / EPA
Civilians flee from the besieged city of Bani Walid, Libya, yesterday. According to media sources, Libyan rebels said they were delaying assault on Bani Walid, one of the last bastions of fugitive leader Muammar Qaddafi after meeting fierce resistance. MOHAMMED MESSARA / EPA

TRIPOLI // Colonel Muammar Qaddafi accused revolutionary forces of surrendering Libya to foreign influence and vowed to press ahead with his resistance yesterday.

His message was issued just hours after a twin attack on a key oil facility by loyalist fighters.

At least 15 attackers were killed, a rebel commander said.

"We will not be ruled after we were the masters," said a statement attributed to Colonel Qaddafi that was read on Syria's Al Rai TV by its owner, Mishan Al Jabouri, a former Iraqi politician and Qaddafi supporter.

Opposition forces were called "traitors" who were willing to turn over Libya's oil riches to foreigners.

"We will not hand Libya to colonialism, once again, as the traitors want," said the statement, which pledged to fight against the "coup".

The firebrand words contrast with the staggering losses for the Qaddafi regime, including being driven from Tripoli and left with only a handful of strongholds, which are surrounded by revolutionaries.

Col Qaddafi's whereabouts are unknown but followers claim he is still in Libya.

Some of his family have fled to neighbouring Niger, including his son Saadi this week.

Although Col Qaddafi's opponents now hold sway over most of Libya - and remain backed by Nato air raids - there are signs that his supporters can still strike back.

At the important oil terminal at Ras Lanuf, suspected loyalists staged back-to-back attacks that began with fire-raising then shifted to a convoy of gunmen riding in from the desert. Col Hamid Al Hasi, the commander for anti-Qaddafi forces in eastern Libya, said 15 employees set fire to the facility, on the Mediterranean coast about 615 kilometres south-east of Tripoli.

Five of the saboteurs were killed and the rest arrested.

The port was then targeted by a convoy of armed men apparently based in a refugee camp about 30km south of Ras Lanuf.

One revolutionary commander, Fadl-Allah Haroun, said 15 people were killed in both attacks.

The size of the ground assault force was unclear but Mr Haroun said there may have been 40 vehicles.

Meanwhile, former rebels have faced stiff resistance from Qaddafi supporters in Bani Walid but have captured most of the northern half of the town, one of three significant remaining bastions of loyalists.

Dozens of cars loaded with families streamed out of the town, about 140 km south-east of Tripoli, in anticipation of a fresh assault. "The fighting will be very bad," said Fadila Salim as she drove away.

Her son, Mohammed Ibrahim, said there is no electricity, no water and food supplies are low, adding that many are "stuck in their houses and afraid to leave".

Khairiyah Al Mahdi, a 40-year-old housewife, was fleeing with her husband, six daughters and two sons.

Her home was among the first to fly the revolution's tricolor flag when Libyan fighters pushed into Bani Walid over the weekend.

But deteriorating living conditions, threats from Col Qaddafi supporters and heavy clashes in the town prompted her family to flee.

"We left Bani Walid because Qaddafi loyalists announced that anyone helping the rebels or part of them will be killed," she said.

"A lot of people are scared and now leaving."