Thursday 22 August 2019

Libya clashes escalate as Tripoli airport hit by air strike

The UN said the latest fighting, which began on Thursday, has so far displaced 3,400 people.

(Screengrab/PA)
(Screengrab/PA)

By Rami Musa and Samy Magdy, Associated Press

Clashes between rival Libyan forces for control of Tripoli have escalated as the death toll from days of fighting rose to at least 51, and the capital’s only functioning airport said it had been hit by an air strike.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Hifter, who last week launched the push on Tripoli, acknowledged striking Mitiga airport, barely five miles east of the city centre.

Hifter’s forces have clashed with rival militias which support the UN-backed government that controls Tripoli and the western part of the country.

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Mitiga airport after a reported air strike (2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

The escalation has threatened to plunge the fractured North African nation deeper into chaos and ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The UN said the latest fighting has displaced 3,400 people and blocked emergency services from reaching casualties and civilians.

The World Health Organisation said two doctors were killed trying to “evacuate wounded patients from conflict areas”.

Ibrahim Fadel, an official at Mitiga, said no casualties were reported in the airport attack. Flights were suspended for several hours but the airport reopened later.

The official Facebook page of Mitiga, run by the UN-backed government, said a fighter jet attacked the facility but gave no other details.

A video circulated online shows a fighter jet firing and apparently targeting the airport, formerly a military base.

Major General Mohamed al-Manfour of the Libyan National Army told the Libyan Address newspaper they bombed targets at Mitiga after receiving information that UN-backed government forces were preparing to target them.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York the UN received “no positive news” in response to its urgent appeal for a truce in Tripoli.

A ceasefire is imperative to ensure that civilians trapped in fighting around the Libyan capital can escape to safer areas and that the wounded can be evacuated, he said.

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Libya, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, said the clashes have worsened the situation for migrants held in detention centres in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, fighting was under way at Tripoli’s former international airport, 15 miles south of the city. That airport was closed in 2014 after fighting destroyed much of it.

Hifter’s forces said on Saturday that they had seized the old airport. However, militias supporting the UN-backed government in Tripoli claimed on Monday that they had recaptured the facility.

The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government said at least 27 people, including civilians, had been killed and at least 27 wounded since the start of Hifter’s offensive against the capital.

The media office of Hifter’s army said 22 of their troops had been killed since Thursday.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on the warring sides to stop fighting and start talking.

Speaking at the EU’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, she said all sides in the recent surge in fighting should “go back to the negotiating table under the auspices of the UN”.

PA Media

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