Tuesday April 9, 2019
By Ahmed Elumami, Ayman al-Warfalli
Members of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, prepare themselves to go to the front line in Tripoli, Libya April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.
Casualties were mounting in fighting that also threatens to disrupt
oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck U.N. plans for an
election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in the
country’s east and west.
The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA)
forces of Khalifa Haftar - a former general in Gaddafi’s army - said 19
of its soldiers died in recent days as they closed in on the
internationally recognized government in Tripoli. A spokesman for
the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the
capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians,
and wounded 80.
Mitiga airport, in an eastern suburb, was bombed
and closed, authorities said. The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame,
condemned the air strike as a “a serious violation of humanitarian law”.
A spokesman for the LNA confirmed the strike, saying his force had not targeted civilian planes, only a MiG parked at Mitiga.
The closure left Misrata airport, 200 km (125 miles) to the east down the coast, as the closest option for Tripoli residents.
LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the
oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through
largely unpopulated desert regions toward Tripoli.
capital, however, is a much bigger challenge. The LNA has conducted air
strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road
from a disused former international airport.
said on Monday afternoon the LNA had lost control of the old airport
and withdrawn from positions on the airport road. Forces allied to the
Tripoli administration were seen inside the airport, while clashes with
the eastern forces were raging south of the airport, a Reuters reporter
at the scene and residents said.
On Sunday evening, LNA forces
had moved up from the airport, coming as close as 11 km (7 miles) from
the city center before retreating, residents said.
MACHINE GUNS ON PICKUPS
government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, 59, is seeking to block
the LNA with the help of allied armed groups who have rushed to Tripoli
from Misrata in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.
A Reuters correspondent in the city center could hear gunfire in the distance southwards.
Serraj has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a U.N.-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar.
envoy Salame met Serraj in Tripoli on Monday to discuss “ways the U.N.
can assist with this critical and difficult juncture”, U.N. spokesman
Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
Dujarric said 3,400
people had been displaced by violence in and around Tripoli, emergency
services had been blocked from reaching casualties and civilians, and
electricity lines had been damaged.
“We’re calling for a
temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency
services and a voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded,
from the areas of conflict,” Dujarric said.
violence has jeopardized a U.N. plan for an April 14-16 conference to
plan elections and end anarchy that has prevailed since the
Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi.
As well as the United
Nations, the European Union, United States and G7 bloc have all urged a
ceasefire, a halt to Haftar’s advance and return to negotiations.
casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new
dictator in the mold of Gaddafi, whose four-decade rule was marked by
torture, disappearances and assassinations.
MIGRANTS AND MILITANTS
NATO-backed rebels ousted Gaddafi, Libya has been a transit point for
hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hope of
reaching Europe across the sea.
Migrants and refugees held in
detention are especially vulnerable in the current fighting, said aid
agencies MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the International Rescue
The LNA says it has 85,000 men, but this includes
soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit. Its
elite Saiqa (Lightning) force, numbers some 3,500, while Haftar’s sons
also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.
Haftar has swelled his ranks with Salafist fighters and tribesmen as
well as Chadians and Sudanese from over the southern borders, claims
dismissed by the LNA.
France, which has close links to Haftar, said it had no prior warning of his push for Tripoli, a diplomatic source said.
established close relations with Haftar under the Socialist government
of former President Francois Hollande and his defense minister,
Jean-Yves Le Drian.
When President Emmanuel Macron
named Le Drian his foreign minister, Paris increased support for Haftar,
in close alignment with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see
him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily,
according to U.N. reports.
France’s stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought a leading role to end the turmoil in its former colony.
received a phone call from Macron on Monday, the Tripoli-based
government said, adding they discussed security developments.
by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Additional reporting by Hani
Amara in Tripoli, Ulf Laessing in Cairo, Tom Miles in Geneva, Robin
Emmott in Luxembourg, Marine Pennetier in Paris and Michelle Nichols in
New York; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry; Editing by
Kevin Liffey, Alison Williams and Catherine Evans