The announcement came as an artillery shell exploded close to a school south of the capital, Tripoli, killing at least three children, health authorities said. The oil closures came when powerful tribal groups loyal to military commander Khalifa Hifter earlier this month seized several large export terminals along Libya's eastern coast as well as southern oil fields. Hifter controls eastern Libya and much of the southern part of the country.
The moves were meant to challenge Hifter’s adversaries in the internationally backed but weak rival government that controls Tripoli and western areas. The National Oil Corporation, which dominates Libya’s critical oil industry, said, “The total value of losses since the beginning of the blockades has reached $502,289,339 as of Monday, January 27, 2020.” It put the average daily loss at $50.2 million.
The corporation said oil production had fallen from over 1.2 million barrels a day before the seizures to 271,204 barrels on Monday. Seeking to reassure Libyans, the corporation said fuel levels in the country’s central and eastern regions “remain sufficient.” It added, however, that the western and southern regions have faced “some supply shortage due to the deteriorating security situation” because of the fighting between Hifter's forces and Tripoli-allied militias.
The oil shutdown was seen as part of Hifter’s efforts to take control of Tripoli and punish his adversaries there for sealing security and maritime agreements with Turkey, opening doors for unlimited military support from the Turks.
Oil, the lifeline of Libya’s economy, has long been a key factor in the civil war, with rival authorities jostling for control of oil fields and state revenue. Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil reserves in Africa.
The closure came just two days before world powers with interests in Libya’s long-running conflict pledged at a conference in Berlin to respect a much-violated arms embargo and push opposing factions to reach a cease-fire.
Hifter’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces began the offensive against the capital last April, and fighting with an array of militias loosely allied with the Tripoli-based government have killed over 3,000 people and displaced 200,000 in the city.
Tripoli health authorities said three children were killed Tuesday when a shell hit close to a school in the southern town of al-Hadaba al-Badri. Another child was critically wounded. The Tripoli fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later slain.
Hifter is supported by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, while the embattled U.N.-backed government is aided by Turkey and Qatar.