Tripoli-allied Libya forces capture key airport

CAIRO (AP) – Forces allied with the United Nations- (UN-) supported government in Libya have captured a key airport in Tripoli from rival troops attempting to take control of the capital for over a year, a government forces spokesman said.

The fall of Tripoli International Airport came two days after the UN announced Libya’s warring parties had agreed to resume cease-fire talks following weeks of heavy fighting. Photos showing shelled Libyan commercial planes inside the airport were posted on the official Facebook page of the Tripoli-allied forces.

A representative of Hifter’s forces could not be immediately reached for comment yesterday.

Since 2015, Libya has been divided between two governments, one in the east and one in the west. The east-based forces under Commander Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive in April last year to capture Tripoli from the west-based Government of National Accord.

Mohamed Gnono, spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces, tweeted late Wednesday that troops had “liberated” the airport from the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces led by Hifter.

“Hifter’s plan to take over Tripoli has been smashed thanks to the will of the honest children of the nation. Today, we have fulfilled our pledge to liberate Tripoli airport,” Colonel Salah al-Namroush, Undersecretary of the Government of National Accord’s Defence Ministry, said on Wednesday.

The airport was closed in 2014 following heavy fighting that destroyed much of it. For years, flights were diverted to the Mitiga airport, which has been shut down several times since last year due to heavy shelling blamed on Hifter’s forces.

The fall of the Tripoli airport attests to the seesaw nature of the fighting between the GNA and eastern-based LAAF. In recent months, GNA-allied militias backed by Turkey, Italy and Qatar have recaptured some key towns surrounding the capital.

However, the LAAF, supported by Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have responded with a series of airstrikes. Earlier this week, the LAAF recaptured a key town that it had lost two weeks earlier to its rivals. The North African country slid into civil war following the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

A fighter loyal to the United Nations-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) stands on the tarmac of Tripoli International Airport following its recapture from rival forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP