The tiny Gulf Arab nation of Qatar said Tuesday it was behind last week's sale of more than $100 million of crude oil from areas held by Libya's rebels.
Qatar also said it has been shipping gasoline and other fuel to Benghazi, the main city in rebel-held eastern Libya, providing a lifeline to opposition-held areas that lack sufficient capacity to produce their own refined fuel.
Though not a surprise, the announcement underscores Qatar's position as the most prominent Arab state supporting opposition forces seeking to topple Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Qatar is one of two Arab countries enforcing the no-fly zone over the North African Arab nation.
On Wednesday, diplomats will gather in the Qatari capital Doha for a meeting of the Libya contact group, which was set up to act as the political guide to NATO-led airstrikes and humanitarian missions in Libya. The talks aim to coordinate an international response to the conflict.
Qatar said it arranged a shipment last week of 1 million barrels of crude oil from the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk, which is in territory controlled by the rebels. The shipment was worth about $120 million.
Energy traders widely believed Qatar had brokered the deal, but Doha had not previously confirmed its role.
A spokesman for Qatar Petroleum, the government company that oversees Qatar's energy exports, declined to comment on the shipment Tuesday night.
"The fact that they're confirming it is new, but it's not really surprising," said Greg Priddy, an oil analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. "What's important about it ... is that the Qataris are essentially absorbing some of the risk in marketing it."
Qatar also said it has delivered four shipments of fuel to Benghazi, including diesel, propane and gasoline. The statement carried by the official Qatar News Agency said the shipments were handled by the state-owned Qatar International Petroleum Marketing Co., which trades under the name Tasweeq.
Priddy said rebel-held areas need the fuel because small and antiquated refineries in their territory don't have much capacity.
Qatar has been the strongest Arab voice supporting the anti-Gadhafi rebels, and the region's first to commit fighter planes to enforcing the NATO-dominated no-fly zone over Libya. It was the second county in the world after France to recognize the rebels' Transitional National Council as Libya's legitimate government.