Libya militias locked in deadly battle for airport

July 21, 2014 - 5:43:52 am

tRIPOLI: Islamist-led militiamen stepped up their assault yesterday on Libya’s main airport, two days after the collapse of a truce with rival ex-rebels who control the facility, a security official said. The renewed fighting, which killed at least five civilians, was condemned by the European Union, which urged restraint and dialogue.

A coalition of militias led by Islamist fighters launched an assault on Tripoli international airport, with clashes later spreading along the road to the capital.

By Sunday evening, fighting had subsided around the airport, security official Al-Jilani Al Dahesh said, but clashes continued in the western suburbs of the capital, witnesses said.

“The airport was attacked this morning with mortar rounds, rockets and tank fire,” Al Dahesh said. “It was the most intense bombardment so far,” since a week-old battle for control of the airport erupted on July 13.

Dahesh said the militia which controls the airport, based in Zintan, southwest of the capital, and seen by Islamists as the armed wing of liberals within the government, responded with heavy fire. Islamist militias have been joined by other armed groups, including the powerful Misrata Brigades which played a key role in the 2011 UN-backed revolt that toppled and killed strongman Muamer Gaddafi.

The fighting has halted all flights and caused extensive damage to planes and airport infrastructure, with aviation officials saying Tripoli airport could be closed for months.

Pictures posted on social media showed a Libyan Airlines plane on fire as plumes of smoke billowed over the airport. The carrier said on its Facebook page that one aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ900, was destroyed. Another aircraft, an Airbus A330, was also later reported to have been destroyed by fire.

Loud explosions were heard in the city centre, 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) away, as battles raged along the airport road with rockets striking nearby homes.

At least five civilians were killed in the Qasr Bin Ghashir neighbourhood, Mohamed Abderrahman from the local town council told private television channel Al Nabaa.AFP

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