Libyan capital airport halts flights after shelling

Libyan capital airport halts flights after shelling
Forces loyal to rogue General Khalifa Haftar said they shot down an unmanned drone violating a fragile ceasefire.
3 min read
23 January, 2020
The Mitiga airport is also a significant military base [Getty]
The only functioning airport in Libya's capital was shuttered on Wednesday after coming under attack despite a truce that world powers have pushed warring parties to respect.

Authorities at Tripoli's Mitiga Airport said six Grad missiles crashed into the tarmac, prompting the airport to briefly suspend operations.

Flights later resumed but were grounded again following fiery threats from eastern-based forces laying siege to the capital.

As the sole landing strip for the internationally recognised government based in Tripoli, as well as its major military base, Mitiga is a strategic target for the self-styled Libyan National Army led by rogue General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar's forces launched their campaign to capture the capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al-Sarraj in April last year.

A spokesman for Haftar's forces acknowledged shooting down a Turkish-made drone over Mitiga, which he said had violated the ceasefire and tried to strike LNA targets.

Turkey, a key backer of Sarraj's government, is among several international players accused of breaking a UN arms embargo on the conflict.

Ankara has also threatened military intervention in recent weeks if Haftar's forces refuse to stand down.

A pro-Haftar news outlet shared footage of dozens of people crowding around to inspect wreckage of the drone. One of its large shattered pieces bore the Libyan flag.

Spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said Haftar's forces imposing a no-fly zone over Mitiga airbase and "any civilian or military aircraft that breaches the airspace will face a strong and immediate response".

Striking a harsh tone, he warned that Haftar's forces would not hesitate to bomb a western militia stronghold at the airbase.

The airport, after having reopened just hours before, was abruptly shut down.

Officials said all planes taking off Thursday would be diverted to a northwestern city.

The heightened tensions tested the resilience of a ceasefire brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey.

The two countries, supporting rival factions in Libya, have become central players in the conflict in recent months.

Intermittent clashes continue to rattle residents on the outskirts of the capital despite promises by both parties to abide by the truce.

On Sunday, world powers with interests in Libya held a peace summit in Berlin, where they pledged to halt foreign interference, honour a widely violated arms embargo and support the ceasefire and a process towards realising peace.

Basic questions about a concrete political processes remain unresolved, however. 

The foreign ministers of Libya's neighbouring countries are set to meet in Algeria on Thursday for discussions on "rapidly changing developments" following the Berlin conference, Egypt's foreign ministry said.

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