Giant conflagration in Tripoli airport as anarchy sweeps across Libya
Foreign governments have looked on powerless as anarchy sweeps across the North African oil producer, three years after NATO bombardment helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi. They have urged nationals to leave Libya and have pulled diplomats out after two weeks of clashes among rival factions killed nearly 160 people in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
A rocket hit a fuel storage tank today in a chaotic battle for Tripoli airport that has all but closed off international flights to Libya, leaving fire-fighters struggling to extinguish a giant conflagration.
The Netherlands, the Philippines and Austria prepared to evacuate diplomatic staff. The United States, United Nations and Turkish embassies have already shut operations after the worst violence since the 2011 uprising.
Two rival brigades of former rebels fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport have pounded each other's positions with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons for two weeks, turning the south of the capital into a battlefield.
In the three messy years since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya's fragile government and fledging army have been unable to control heavily armed former anti-Gaddafi fighters, who refuse to hand over weapons and continue to rule the streets.
Libya has appealed for international help to stop the country from becoming a failed state. Western partners fear chaos spilling across borders with arms smugglers and militants already profiting from the turmoil.
In neighbouring Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly warned about militants capitalising on Libya's chaos to set up bases along their mutual frontier.
After the US evacuation, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the "free-wheeling militia violence" had been a real risk for American diplomats on the ground, and called for an end to the violence. US ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by militants along with three others in Benghazi in September 2012.