Libya airport takeover widens political split

Armed fighters have backed the return of Libya’s previous parliament, as the country’s political crisis deepens.

Tripoli, Libya – Islamist-led armed groups have announced the reinstatement of Libya’s previous parliament after taking control of the international airport in Tripoli, effectively splitting Libya’s polarised political system into two separate bodies.

The General National Congress (GNC) – the predecessor to Libya’s newly-elected House of Representatives – announced in a televised statement that it would retake control of parliament and assume its duties as of Sunday.

The elected parliament, meanwhile, designated several Islamist armed groups, the Libya Dawn forces – an alliance of Islamist-led militias from Misrata and Tripoli – Ansar al-Sharia, and the Benghazi Shura Council, as “terrorist organisations”.

Based in the city of Tobruk, in Libya’s northeast, the parliament said that it supported the Libyan national army in its fight against the armed groups.

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The deepened political split came after forces from Libya Dawn, under the command of GNC member Salah Badi, from the port city of Misrata, took control of Tripoli’s international airport on Saturday.

The airport had been under the control of anti-Islamist fighters from the town of Zintan, southwest of the capital, since the fall of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The Zintan force is allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

Tripoli’s airport road has also been the site of five weeks of fighting between the rival armed groups, and is now under Libya Dawn’s control.

“The airport is a strategic asset and gives great power, leverage, and control over Tripoli and the western region,” said Sami Zaptia, a journalist in Tripoli. The airport, he said, “enables the entry of arms and personnel” without official state controls.

Without official local and international recognition, I don’t think they will be able to utilise the airport effectively.

by - Hafed al-Ghwell, Tripoli-based political analyst

The GNC will host its first session on Sunday in Tripoli, while the House of Representatives will meet in Tobruk. “The governor of the Central Bank of Libya is key; who does he recognise as legitimate?” Zaptia asked.

According to Hafed al-Ghwell, a Tripoli-based analyst, the GNC will likely struggle to garner legitimacy. “The GNC is no longer really recognised as the legitimate voice of Libya after the last elections, which were supported by the international community, including the UN, Arab League, [and] the African Union,” he said.

“Without official local and international recognition, I don’t think they will be able to utilise the airport effectively,” Ghwell added.

The capture of the airport came after unidentified military aircraft bombed bases under the control of Misrata armed groups, resulting in a major setback.

A raid in the early hours of Saturday killed 10 fighters in an munitions bunker in addition to two sons of the head of Misrata’s military council, according to members of the council.

Libya Dawn has accused the United Arab Emirates and Egypt of involvement in the Friday night air raid, a charge that Egypt denied on Sunday.

Residents reported hearing jets followed by explosions again at dawn on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Misrata’s Libya Shield – the largest single armed group in Libya – also reportedly attacked the Tripoli bases of Zintan’s two main militias, Qaqaa and as-Sawaik, but has not seized control, according to Misrata military council member, Anwar Suwan.

Source: Al Jazeera