Tunisia refinery strike causes Libya rebel fuel drought
A strike at a refinery in neighbouring Tunisia threatens a fuel drought at Nafusa, a rebel mountain stronghold southwest of Tripoli where black market gasoline prices have skyrocketed.
The barren region that in February rose up simultaneously with the east of the country against the regime of Moamer Gathafi is almost entirely dependent for all supplies on legal and illegal border traffic with southern Tunisia.
A refinery strike in the southern Tunisian seaport of Skhira has created gasoline and diesel shortages that have been immediately felt in the Libyan rebel areas.
Petrol stations in Nafusa, which already would open when there were supplies, have now all shut down completely.
Street-side fuel vendors, stationed at village crossroads across the region, say Tunisian customs authorities have been stopping the passage of fuel tankers and certain other commodities across the border into Libya.
"This morning the cost of a 20-litre (five-gallon) jerry can was 100 dinars (50 euros)," a street vendor said in Zliten, the rebel nerve centre in the region.
"It is contraband, so it must come through the desert," he explained with a hint of embarrassment at the exorbitant price. "I had to pay more than 55 dinars for it myself," he added.
The insurgents have been organised into "military committees" in each city, ensuring availability of "strategic reserves" that allow them to continue their insurgency.
But for the inhabitants of Zliten and surrounding villages who have returned home to spend the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan with families, the fuel shortages have been dramatic.
"I have been going around for four hours and I have found nothing. Even though I am ready to pay the price, there is no petrol," said Abubakr Khelfa, a 34-year-old professor.
"People are staying home, there are fewer cars on the streets," he added.
A short distance away, two brothers are looking for some high-octane fuel, and ready to pay 90 dinars (45 euros) per litre.
"We would even have paid 200 dinars," said one brother, who refused to give his name. "What is important is our struggle," he added.
At his office, Colonel Juma Ibrahim, military spokesman of the rebellion for the entire region, ensured the fuel shortage has not affected fighters.
But he added: "We urge the Tunisian authorities to help us and to let fuel trucks pass into Nafusa."
At dusk on Wednesday, when the inhabitants of Zliten re-emerged after passing the daytime Ramadan hours in the air-conditioned indoors, all conversations were about jerry cans and fuel.
A young salesman asked for 150 dinars for his last 20 litres of petrol, and got his asking price.
"I know it's very expensive, but we need our cars because we must do the shopping for Ramadan," explained one buyer, in a country accustomed before the rebellion to paying only a few cents per litre of gasoline or diesel.
"But, inshallah (God willing), after this Ramadan we will be free, because we will be rid of Gathafi," he added.