The United States has evacuated its embassy in Libya and warned all Americans in the country to “depart immediately”, as fighting between militias in the capital Tripoli intensifies.
The mission staff were driven safely overland to neighbouring Tunisia, escorted by the US military.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement: “Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly.
“Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”
American personnel at the Libyan embassy, which was already operating with limited staffing, left the capital at around dawn on Saturday, said Ms Harf.
Speaking during a visit to Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry said they had decided to temporarily suspend diplomatic operations in Tripoli because “freewheeling militia violence” posed a “real risk” to its personnel.
US officials are taking no chances after the deadly 2012 attack on its mission in the eastern city of Benghazi, when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died.
he State Department has also issued a travel warning against travel to Libya, urging all Americans already in the country to get out.
The advisory also cautioned that the country is awash with military-grade arms, including “antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation”.
Tripoli has been engulfed for weeks in bloodshed between militias that has killed and wounded dozens, with fighting especially intense around the city’s airport.
The last time the US suspended operations at its Tripoli embassy was in February 2011, during the revolution that toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The mission reopened a few months later.