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Tripoli airport seized by extremist fighters


A general view of the damage of the 27th Bridge is seen along a road linking Tripoli and the western Libyan cities, near a former Libyan Army camp known as Camp 27 following clashes between rival militias in the 27 district, west of Tripoli, on Friday. Photo: Reuters/Stringer



Tripoli: Extremist fighters in the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition said on Saturday they have captured Tripoli airport after 10 days of clashes with nationalist militiamen.

A statement shown on screen on An Nabaa television, regarded as close to the extremists, said: "Fajr Libya announces that it totally controls Tripoli international airport."

The strategic site 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the Libyan capital, has been shut since July 13 amid skirmishes between the extremists and nationalist fighters from Zintan west of Tripoli, who had held the airport since the 2011 fall of long-time dictator Muammer Gadaffi.

Meanwhile, Rogue general Khalifa Haftar, who opposes the extremists and favours the Zintan militia, claimed to be behind Monday's raid, but specialists doubted his ability to carry out such at attack.

An air force unit which has refused to join an offensive launched by Haftar in the eastern city of Benghazi said the aircraft were "foreign, not Libyan".

It said Libyan aircraft are not equipped to make night flights and cannot be refuelled in flight, particularly if they take off from remote air bases controlled by Haftar's forces.

Ghariani said the raids were undoubtedly aimed at relieving pressure on the Zintan militia, who, he said, were struggling to fend off Fajr Libya's campaign aimed ultimately at taking control of Tripoli international airport.

The hub has been shut since July 13 amid the repeated skirmishes, the worst violence in the Libyan capital since the uprising.

Media and political circles are full of the wildest theories about the mystery aircraft. Some speculate about Western intervention, but France, Italy and the United States have all denied involvement.
The extremists do not rule out foreign aircraft acting at the behest of the Libyan government, after the new parliament elected on June 25 called for foreign intervention to protect civilians.

Others suggest the trail leads towards neighbouring countries, in particular Egypt, where new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is hostile towards Islamists. Authorities in Cairo have refused to comment.

Algeria to the immediate west has repeatedly said it will not get involved in Libya.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on August 7: "A consensus has to be reached to put in place a government and institutions capable of running" Libya.

But "going in with our forces to restore the situation is not a solution and cannot be a solution," he said.

Meanwhile, some sources in Libya say Haftar has acquired Sukhoi jets from Russia capable of carrying out such raids.

Another theory is that the embattled Zintan fighters have hired mercenaries and aircraft from an unknown army to launch the raids.

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