Shelling of Tripoli’s airport hit fuel tanks and damaged passenger planes after forces loyal to Libya’s renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar fired a barrage of rockets into Tripoli.
The transport ministry said one of the damaged planes was preparing to fly to Spain to retrieve Libyans stranded in Europe by the coronavirus lockdown.
The attack on Saturday was the latest to target Mitiga International Airport in Libya’s capital, the seat of the country’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). Haftar’s eastern-based forces have been trying to seize Tripoli since April last year.
Video shared by an airport worker showed black smoke billowing over the apron. Photographs showed shrapnel damage sprayed across the nose of a passenger plane.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries after “dozens of rockets” hit the airport, our reporter said. He added plumes of black smoke were seen billowing over the facility.
قصف قوات حفتر للطائرات وخزانات الوقود ومرافق مطار معيتيقة الدولي.
The airport has repeatedly been attacked by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which in April last year launched an operation to capture Tripoli from the GNA. Civilian flights stopped in March because of frequent shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic
“Haftar’s forces say that there is a drone launcher in that airport … Turkish drones to target Haftar forces’ locations in the south and many other locations,” Abdelwahed said.
According to the United Nations, four-fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of the year were caused by LNA ground fighting.
Late on Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli was shelled, leading the European Union to condemn the incident, which it said was “attributal to Haftar’s forces”.
LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari denied the LNA had shelled the area. He has not yet commented on Saturday’s shelling at Mitiga.
Turkey supports the GNA and has signed a military cooperation agreement with it to help the fight against Haftar’s LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and other countries.
The attack came days after at least five civilians were killed in shelling blamed on the LNA and followed the launch of an operation by the GNA to seize the key al-Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, from Haftar’s forces.
Series of setbacks
Haftar’s fighters have suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks in their year-long campaign to seize Tripoli, with pro-GNA forces expelling them from two key coastal cities west of the capital.
The LNA’s military defeats have coincided with Turkey’s entrance into the conflict, and its use of weaponised drones targetting Haftar’s troops and supply lines.
The GNA rejected Haftar’s unilateral call for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for fear he would use the truce as an opportunity to regroup.
Last month, the United Nations, the European Union and several countries called on Libya’s warring sides to lay down their arms during Ramadan.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.
For years, the country has been split between the rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups supported by an array of foreign powers.