Libyan Army Commander Says His Forces Capture Tripoli Airport

Khalifa Hifter ordered his forces two days earlier to seize the capital of the UN-backed government, raising prospect of renewed civil war

Military vehicles of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, are seen on a street in Tajura neighborhood, east of Tripoli, Libya April 6, 2019.
Reuters

Forces loyal to rival Libyan army commander Khalifa Hifter said Saturday they seized control of the main airport in Libya's Tripoli, two days after Hifter ordered his forces to seize the capital of the UN-backed government.

Hifter's media office said in a post online that they took full control of the Tripoli international airport and were working to secure the facility. They posted photos of troops apparently inside the airport, saying "we are standing at the heart of the Tripoli international airport."

Libya split between rival governments in the east and west after descending into chaos following the 2011 NATO-supported uprising that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

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Hifter's offensive on Tripoli could plunge the oil-rich country into another spasm of violence, possibly the worst since the 2011 civil war that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country is governed by rival authorities: The internationally backed government in Tripoli and the government in the east, which Hifter is aligned with. Each is backed by an array of militias.

There was no immediate statement from the UN-backed government, the militias that support it, or the UN.

The Tripoli airport has not been functional since fighting in 2014 destroyed much of the facility.

The media office said that troops also captured the area of Wadi el-Rabeia, south of Tripoli, amid clashed with rival militias backing the government of Fayez Sarraj in Tripoli.

Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the self-styled Libyan National Army lead by Hifter, said 14 troops were killed since Hifter declared the offensive. He said rival militias launched four airstrikes Saturday targeting Hifter's position in the town of al-Aziziya. He said no causalities reported from the airstrikes.

Al-Mosmari said Hifter's forces declared Tripoli a no-fly zone for warplanes.

Hifter, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, announced Thursday he was deploying his forces toward Tripoli, sparking fears that the tensions could be escalating out of control as militias from the western cities of Zawiya and Misarata said that they have mobilized to confront Hifter.

He also put at risk upcoming peace talks between Libyan rivals mediated by the UN aimed at drawing a roadmap for new elections.

The UN Security Council on Saturday called on Hifter forces to halt all military movements and urged all forces in Libya "to de-escalate and halt military activity."