Killing, airport shelling deepen Libya chaos

July 18, 2014 - 3:05:56 am
People inspect the passenger terminal at the Tripoli international airport in the Libyan capital, which came under rocket fire for a fourth straight day yesterday.

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI: Several shells hit the terminal of Libya’s main airport on Thursday as rival militias fought in Tripoli for a fifth day, and gunmen assassinated a female politician in the east.

In another sign of growing turmoil, air controllers halted work in Tripoli, shutting off much of the oil-producing country from international traffic.

Tripoli International Airport has been a battlefield since fighters attacked it with heavy guns on Sunday to wrest control from a rival militia which has been based there since the fall of Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The airport fighting pits brigades from Misrata, a western coastal town, against rival fighters from Zintan in the northwest. 

Powerful militias from the city of Misrata yesterday announced their support for Islamists in their battle for control of the airport.

Leaders of the Misrata militias, in a statement broadcast on local television, described the assault on the airport as “a battle by the revolutionaries” against pro-Gaddafi elements.

Yesterday, several shells hit the airport terminal where the Zintanis are holding out, striking the main building for the first time, witnesses said.

A reporter at the airport saw holes in the roof and smashed windows at the terminal building and in airline offices, including one belonging to British Airways, with a shell lying on the floor.

Air controllers refused to go to work at the control tower in Tripoli, which regulates traffic for all of western Libya, a spokesman for the transport ministry said.

On Wednesday, Libya reopened the western Misrata airport, which had been closed with Tripoli after the weekend attack, but it will have to shut again because Tripoli air controllers are also responsible for Misrata.

In the eastern Islamist hotspot of Derna, gunmen shot dead Fariha Al Barkawi, a former member of parliament, officials said. She is the second prominent woman to be assassinated, following the killing of Benghazi human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis last month.