Forces loyal to Libya’s recognised government yesterday conducted air strikes on targets near the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es-Sider to stop an advance by a rival force, officials said.

The clashes are part of a wider struggle in the North African country between competing governments allied to armed factions over control of the vast oil reserves, three-and-a-half years after the death of Muammar Gaddafi.

The recognised Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been forced to work out of a rump state in the east since a group called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August and set up its own government and Parliament.

We bombed them to stop them from entering

The oil ports Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, two of Libya’s biggest, accounting for more than 300,000 barrels a day of exports, were working normally, an oil official said.

Saqer al-Joroushi, an air force commander allied to Thinni, said his aircraft had attacked positions near Sirte, a costal city in central Libya.

He said a rival force from Misurata, a coastal city west of Sirte and the ports, had advanced towards the terminals with a large number of vehicles.

“We bombed them to stop them from entering the ports,” he said. A Sirte resident said two air strikes had targeted an air base in the city.

Forces loyal to a rival government in Tripoli launched an operation to take the oil ports and fields and expel forces of former army general Khalifa Haftar allied to Thinni, commander Tarek Eshnaina said.

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