Libya crisis: Air strike at Tripoli airport as thousands flee clashes

Saul Bowman
April 12, 2019

A warplane attacked Tripoli's only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded worldwide appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi's fall in 2011.

A security source at Mitiga airport, east of the capital, said no side had yet claimed responsibility for Monday's air raid, which hit a runway without causing casualties.

The escalating situation on the outskirts of Tripoli threatens to further destabilise Libya and triggered fears that it could spill into urban warfare inside the capital, which is defended by local militias and other groups, including battle-hardened forces from the city of Misrata.

The closed-door talks in NY come a day after the United Nations postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging on Tripoli's doorstep.

The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Moamar Gaddafi's army, earlier said 19 of their soldiers had died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.

Libya has been rocked by violence and deadly power struggles between several armed groups since NATO-backed rebels overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Haftar's forces appear to be advancing on two fronts, from the south and southeast of Tripoli, while coastal roads to the east and west of the city are defended by fighters loyal to the GNA.

The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government said at least 27 people, including civilians, were killed and at least 27 wounded since the start of Hifter's offensive against the capital.

The U.N. -backed prime minister Serraj, 59, received calls from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and France's President Emmanuel Macron on Monday to discuss the crisis.

The UN has urged for a humanitarian pause to allow civilians trapped in the fighting to escape.

The rights commissioner said that the people of Libya "have always been caught between numerous warring parties, with some of the most vulnerable suffering some of the gravest violations of their human rights".

Global efforts to end the Libyan conflict have repeatedly failed.

Also Monday, U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said he met with Fayez Sarraj, head of the government in Tripoli, to discuss how the U.N. mission "can assist at this critical and hard juncture".

Rival leaders agreed previous year to hold elections before December 10, 2018 under a French plan, but that vote never materialized.

Salame has said he is still planning for the April 14-16 National Conference aimed at bringing all Libyan factions together to chart a course to elections.

He expressed hope the meeting would take place "as soon as possible". Haftar is a tough anti-Islamist who has the support of Egypt and the UAE and is strong in eastern Libya.

It might not be the subtlest way to end the chaos afflicting Libya.

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