Flights suspended in Libya’s capital due to rockets, shelling


TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Flights were suspended at the only functioning airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday due to rocket fire and shelling, officials said.

The closure of Mitiga Airport comes a day after Turkey’s parliament voted to allow a troop deployment to Libya, deepening fears of an escalation of fighting in the North African country.

Eastern-based forces led by military commander Khalifa Haftar have been waging a campaign since April to take control of Tripoli from forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognized government.

Haftar’s forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya at the start of 2019, said on Friday they had carried out air strikes in several locations, including south of the city of Sirte.

Sirte lies in the center of Libya’s coastline, on the dividing line between the warring factions.

Haftar’s Tripoli offensive quickly stalled in the outskirts of the capital. The offensive led to increased international involvement in the conflict, with Turkey backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Haftar receiving support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan.

Russian military contractors have also been deployed with Haftar’s Libyan National Army for several months, diplomats and analysts say.

In reaction to Thursday’s vote in Turkey, there were small protests in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Three subsidaries of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) which operate in areas under Haftar’s control — Ras Lanuf Oil and Gas Company, Sirte Oil Co and Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) — also issued statements saying they would no longer work with Turkish companies.

An engineer from Ras Lanuf said one Turkish company had been carrying out contracting work at Ras Lanuf port since 2017, but it was unclear what immediate impact the statements would have.

Mitiga Airport has been repeatedly closed and reopened in recent years because of risks from shelling and air strikes.

It most recently reopened on Dec. 12 after a closure of nearly 3-1/2 months. Flights had been diverted to Misrata, some 200 km (125 miles) to the east of the capital.

It closed early on Friday because of rocket fire nearby, before reopening briefly and then closing again due to shelling, airport and airline officials said.

Tripoli’s main international airport was closed and partially destroyed in an earlier round of fighting in 2014, when Libya split into rival political and military alliances based in the capital and the east.

Reporting by Hani Amara, Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by John Stonestreet and Edmund Blair