Tripoli’s only functional airport hit by air raid as clashes rage

Mitiga airport’s services suspended as death toll rises amid battles between forces loyal to Haftar and UN-backed gov’t.

Forces under the command of Libya‘s renegade General Khalifa Haftar have launched an air raid against the only functioning airport in Tripoli as heavy fighting rages for control of the capital.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said services at the Mitiga airport in the east of the city were temporarily suspended after the attack on Monday.

“Passengers have been asked to evacuate the Mitiga airport after Haftar’s aircraft raided the runway,” he said, citing sources at the facility.

“In the area around the airport, civilians were terrified immediately after this air strike.”

No casualties were reported in the airport strike.

The empty Mitiga International Airport after services were temporarily suspended [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]
The empty Mitiga International Airport after services were temporarily suspended [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

In a statement, Ghassan Salame, the United Nations’ envoy to Libya, condemned the LNA’s air raid which targeted the only airport in Tripoli that is available for civilian use.

“As such, this attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure,” he said.

Death toll rises

Haftar last week ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a parallel administration in the east, to march on Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) which is protected by an array of militias.

The showdown threatens to further destabilise war-wracked Libya, which splintered into a patchwork of rival power bases following the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

It also risks torpedoing a UN-led national reconciliation conference scheduled for April 14-16 aimed at hammering out a peace deal and set a roadmap for long-delayed elections.

Haftar, who was a general in Gaddafi’s army before defecting and spending years living in the United States, casts himself as an enemy of “extremism”. His opponents, however, view him as a new authoritarian leader in the mould of Gaddafi.

The heavy fighting has so far displaced 2,800 people, according to the UN.

The GNA’s health ministry said at least 27 people, including civilians, have been killed since the start of the offensive, with at least 27 wounded.

According to the LNA’s media office, 22 of their troops have been killed.

The World Health Organization also said two doctors were killed trying to “evacuate wounded patients from conflict areas”.

Fighting was under way on Monday at Tripoli's old airport [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]
Fighting was under way on Monday at Tripoli’s old airport [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Humanitarian concerns

Maria do Valle Ribeiro, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Libya, said the clashes around Tripoli have prevented emergency services from reaching casualties and civilians, and have damaged electricity lines.

The increased violence is also worsening the situation for people held in migrants detention centres in the Libyan capital, she warned.

Detained refugees and migrants told Al Jazeera they are “terrified” about what will happen to them, with some saying they have been left without food or water and others saying they had been taken from their cells and forced to move weapons.

Meanwhile, fighting was under way on Monday at Tripoli’s former international airport on the southern edge of Tripoli.

The disused facility has been abandoned since 2014, after suffering heavy damage during fierce clashes between armed groups.

Activists accuse Haftar’s forces of committing human rights violations, with Human Rights Watch saying in a statement on Saturday that LNA fighters “have a well-documented record of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of captured fighters, and arbitrary detention”.

But the right group’s statement also noted that militias affiliated with the GNA and based in western Libya “also have a record of abuses against civilians”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies