Zintan militia in control of Libya airport
Armed group, which has held Tripoli airport since fall of Gaddafi, repulse attempt by rival militias to take facility.
Last updated: 16 Jul 2014 00:27
Fighting between rival militias wrecked 11 civilian planes at Tripoli's airport and damaged the control tower [Reuters]
|Fighters from Libya's Zintan militia, armed with anti-aircraft guns and mortars, have fanned out across Tripoli's airport, transformed into a battlefield by two days of fighting that has cut the capital off from the outside world.|
Fighting between rival militias has left the control tower damaged and wrecked 11 civilian planes parked on the tarmac. The main terminal building has been turned into a field hospital.
At least 15 people have been killed in the capital and the eastern city of Benghazi since Sunday, the Reuters news agency reported.
In Benghazi, irregular forces loyal to renegade former general Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally, bombarded rival armed group bases as part of his self-declared campaign to oust militias.
Special forces clashed with militia fighters in the city.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Washington was working to help end to violence that has brought the north African country to the edge of chaos three years after the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
The airport battle has prompted the UN to evacuate its staff from the country, where a new government is struggling to impose order over militias who rose up against Gaddafi and never disarmed.
The airport area is under the control of former fighters from the western town of Zintan who have held it since the fall of Tripoli in 2011.
Rival militias, who want to impose Islamic law, have fought with the Zintanis in recent days but failed to dislodge them.
For the past three years, the new authorities have tried to rein in militia fighters by putting them on the government payroll.
NATO helped rebels topple Gaddafi with air strikes, but the Western military alliance has not intervened since then to stem the subsequent chaos.
Kerry said the US, whose ambassador was killed in an attack in Benghazi in 2012, had sent diplomats to seek consensus among Libyan political groups.
"We are deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya," Kerry told a news conference in Vienna.
"It is dangerous and it must stop. We are working very, very hard through our special envoys to find the political cohesion... that can bring people together to create stronger capacity in the government of Libya so that this violence can end."
Government spokesman Ahmed Lamine said Tripoli was studying the possibility of bringing in international forces to improve security.
Western powers fear chaos in Libya will allow arms and fighters to flow across its borders.
A fragile government and parliament have been deadlocked in political struggles between rival religious, nationalist and tribal factions, each allied to competing brigades of heavily armed former rebels who refuse to disarm.
The Zintanis and their allies in Tripoli are loosely aligned with the more nationalist National Forces Alliance led by a former Gaddafi official.
Their main rivals include brigades from the city of Misrata and other militias closer to the Justice and Construction Party, a religious political bloc.
The UN mission in Libya said the closure of Tripoli airport and the deteriorating security situation made it impossible for it to operate.
A Zintani airport official said the control tower would need replacement equipment to be imported before it could be fixed.
The airport in Misrata was also forced shut on Monday, while in the east, Benghazi airport has been closed since May.
High casualties at Tripoli Airport as control tower hit
90% of aircraft destroyed at Tripoli airport, Libya may seek international assistance
Published time: July 15, 2014 04:10
Edited time: July 15, 2014 05:24
Edited time: July 15, 2014 05:24
Libya is considering a deployment of international force to re-establish security amid a flare-up of violence in Tripoli which saw dozens of rockets destroy most of the civilian aircraft fleet at its international airport.
“The government is looking into the possibility of making an appeal for international forces on the ground to re-establish security and help the government impose its authority,” a government spokesman, Ahmed Lamine said in a statement.
The statement comes after deadly clashes led to the closing of the main international airport in Tripoli on Sunday, which came under a renewed rocket attack on Monday.
According to the country’s government at least seven people have been killed at the airport since Sunday, and around 90 percent of aircraft parked at the hub were destroyed or made inoperable. The control tower was damaged as well as several Grad rockets struck the transit hub.
“Dozens of rockets were fired at the airport,” Al-Jilani al-Dahech, a security official at the scene, told AFP, while another source said one aircraft took a direct hit. Libya's main carriers Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines were damaged in the fighting, a security official added.
At least two soldiers were killed and a number of planes were damaged when a militia shelled the airport on Monday, according to a Libyan soldier who spoke with Reuters. “Several planes and cars belonging to citizens were hit,” said Abdel Rahman. A hall used by customs controls had also been hit, he added.
On Monday Libya suspended all flights to and from its third city, Misrata, which is tied to Tripoli airport for its operations, while Benghazi airport has been closed since May.
An airport source in the capital told AFP that the decision to close the airport in Misrata was taken for “technical reasons.”
“The headquarters for the entire western region is at Tripoli airport, and following its closure, Misrata airport also has to close,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Libya is now practically cut off from the outside world,” a source at Tripoli airport told AFP. Only two tiny airports are now operating at Bayda and Tobruk in the east of the country.
The fighting in Tripoli escalated to a new level on Sunday when clashes erupted between Islamist militant groups and militias from the southwestern city of Zintan. At the root of the recent feud lies the country’s June general election, marred by fraud allegations. The country was left in a power vacuum since the 2011 overthrow and killing of long-time strongman colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, medical sources told Reuters that at least six people were killed and 25 wounded in Benghazi as fighting between security forces and rival clans continue since late Sunday.
The security situation is so tense that the UN mission in the country announced the temporary closure of its activities. Libya's neighbors Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia issued a call for dialogue on Monday, urging to set up twin commissions to broker talks and prevent any spillover of violence into the neighboring region.
#Tripoli International Airport about 1/2 an hour ago. Heavy fighting blasted one of the airplanes in #Libya's capital