Tripoli’s main airport seized by Libyan rebels
Forces from the Libyan city of Misrata on Saturday seized Tripoli’s main airport after more than a month of fighting with a rival group, a Misrata spokesman said.
Pictures on social media purportedly showed Misrata fighters celebrating at the terminal building and standing on civilian planes in what, if confirmed, would be a big development in the battle to control the capital.
Arab channels Jazeera and Al-Arabiya also said Misrata forces were controlling the airport, although Reuters was unable immediately to access the area. Heavy shelling could be heard in other parts of the city. War planes had earlier struck Misrata positions in Tripoli in an attack claimed by renegade general Khalifa Haftar. The raids killed 10 people and wounded dozens, the Misrata faction said.
The fighting is the worst since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In the Nato-backed campaign to oust Gaddafi, fighters from the western region of Zintan and Misrata, east of Tripoli, were comrades-in-arms. But they later fell out and this year, have turned parts of Tripoli into a battlefield.
Haftar launched a campaign against Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi in May and threw his weight behind the Zintan fighters.
In Saturday’s fighting, residents heard explosions early in the morning near the airport, where the two groups have been fighting for control for more than a month. Local television channel al-Nabaa said planes had attacked four Misrata positions. A Misrata spokesman said the planes had come from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, two countries which have cracked down on Islamists.
But Haftar’s air defence commander, Sager al-Jouroushi, told Reuters that his forces were responsible for the attack. Haftar’s forces also claimed responsibility for air raids on Misrata positions in Tripoli on Monday.
Western countries and Egypt, worried about Libya becoming a failed state and safe haven for Islamist militants, have denied any involvement. The Libyan government has said it does not know who is responsible for the air attacks.
In a challenge to the parliament elected on 25 June , the spokesman for Operation Dawn called for the old General National Congress (GNC) to be reinstated. Misrata forces have rejected the new House of Representatives, where liberals and lawmakers campaigning for a federalist system have made a strong showing.
In a sign of deep divisions between Libya’s regions and political factions the House of Representative declared the Operation Dawn as well as militant Islamists like the Ansar al-Sharia as ‘terrorist groups’.
This is a war between the Libyan state and the state institutions led by our sons, soldiers and officers in the army, against terrorist groups outside of the law,’ the house said in a statement.
Fresh fighting also erupted between Haftar’s troops and allied army special forces with Islamists in two Benghazi suburbs, where loud explosions could be heard. Four soldiers were killed and 31 wounded, a hospital medic said.