TRIPOLI: Libya suspended all flights to and from Misrata airport in the west on Monday a day after deadly clashes closed the country’s main international airport in Tripoli.
An airport source in the capital said the decision to close the airport in third city 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, of the facility 200 kilometres (125 miles) to the west.
Tripoli international airport was shut down for three days on Sunday after the anti-Islamist Zintan militia that controls it came under attack, airport officials said. At least six people were killed in heavy exchanges of fire, a health ministry official said. “Libya is now practically cut off from the outside world,” the airport source said, adding that the three-day closure of Tripoli airport may be extended. There are now only two other airports operating, at Bayda and Tobruk in the east, the source said.
However, foreigners are banned from flying to the east of the country, under a government decision. This decision was taken after renegade general Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in main eastern city Benghazi against powerful Islamist militias in mid-May. Sunday’s Tripoli airport attack was claimed by Islamist militias determined to oust the Zintan group from key sites it controls in south of the capital, including the airport.
The attack was beaten off, but there were also clashes at other Zintan-controlled sites for several hours, especially on the road to the airport. The situation on Monday was calm, despite fears of clashes breaking out again. Libya has been awash with weapons since the NATO-backed uprising three years ago that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi. The North African nation is plagued by growing lawlessness, while on the political front rival cabinets are jostling for power.
The embattled government has struggled to establish a strong army and police force, giving former rebel groups a free hand to act. The mounting violence prompted the United Nations Support Mission in Libya to announce on Thursday that it was pulling out dozens of staff. The well-armed and disciplined Zintan militia is officially under the jurisdiction of the defence ministry. But it has sided with Haftar’s well-armed forces, including air power, in his campaign to rid Libya of Islamist militias.
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