TRIPOLI: Islamist fighters in the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition said yesterday that they have captured Tripoli’s battered international airport after many days of clashes with nationalist militiamen.
The claim followed a setback the previous night when a warplane raided Islamist positions, killing 13 fighters, a Fajr Libya spokesman said.
If independent sources confirm the airport has changed hands, it would be a major defeat for the nationalist fighters from Zintan west of Tripoli who have held the airport since the fall of long-time dictator Muammar Kadhafi in 2011. A statement shown on screen on An-Nabaa television, regarded as close to the Islamists, said: “Fajr Libya announces that it totally controls Tripoli international airport.”
Later a spokesman for the Islamist coalition, partly comprising men from Misurata, east of Tripoli, said its fighters “have entered the airport and are mopping up pockets of resistance”.
The strategic site 30km south of the Libyan capital, has been shut since July 13 amid clashes between the Islamists and the Zintan force, allies of rogue general Khalifa Haftar, based at Benghazi in eastern Libya and hostile to the Islamists.
The Islamist coalition, which repeatedly claims successes against the nationalists, on Thursday organised a visit by Libyan journalists to an army base on the way to the airport, to prove they had taken it.
Fajr Libya yesterday accused the United Arab Emirates and Egypt of involvement in the Friday night air raid and an earlier strike when two unidentified aircraft bombarded Islamist positions on Monday night.
“The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression,” the coalition said in a statement read out to Libyan journalists in Tripoli. The strike on Friday night killed 13 Islamists and left 20 wounded, Ahmed Hadia, a Fajr Libya spokesman, said, updating an earlier toll.
“We reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment,” Hadia said. The Islamist fighters believe Libya’s provisional government and newly elected parliament “are accomplices to these raids and in doing so have committed an act of treason that removes their legitimacy to govern the people”, he said.
The spokesman called on the provisional General National Congress (GNC), whose mandate expired when the new parliament was sworn in earlier this month, to meet again to “defend the sovereignty of the Libyan state”.
The Islamists were well represented in the GNC but non-Islamist blocs dominate the new parliament, which is holed up along with the provisional government in Tobruk 1,600km east of Tripoli, to avoid the violence in the capital.