Tripoli airport comes under fire despite UN-brokered Libya ceasefire

Fighting between rival militias has killed at least 63 people, mostly civilians

The Libyan capital’s only working airport has come under rocket fire just days after reopening following a United Nations-backed ceasefire between rival armed groups vying for influence in the oil-rich country.

The Tuesday, September 11 night attack underscored the fragility of the latest peace push in the North African nation, which has been beset by turmoil since the fall of long-time leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Several rockets hit the perimeter of Mitiga International Airport on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli without causing any casualties.

Flights were diverted to Misrata, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of the capital, the civil aviation authority said.

Mitiga airport had only reopened on Friday after it was forced to close for a week because of deadly clashes between rival militias in and around Tripoli.

The fighting has killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others – mostly civilians – since August 27, dousing hopes of elections being held this year.

‘Radical measures’

The U.N. brokered ceasefire announced on September 4 has largely been respected but witnesses reported brief clashes in the south of the capital on Tuesday night.

That deal includes “radical measures” to restore security in the capital which should be applied from Wednesday, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya said on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, UNSMIL said on Twitter that a “special meeting” was taking place on security arrangements for Tripoli.

It was attended by the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, as well as military commanders from across western Libya and U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame.

UNSMIL said the meeting was tackling “how best to consolidate the … ceasefire agreement and the establishment of a monitoring and verification committee.”

It also said the meeting was focusing on “the formation of a committee on security arrangements.”

Thousands of families have fled the violence to nearby towns or have had to seek shelter in other districts of Tripoli, authorities have said.

Several rockets had already struck near the airport last month, forcing authorities to divert all flights to Misrata on that occasion too.

A U.N.-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 establishing the GNA brought hopes of an easing of the chaos that followed Libya’s 2011 revolution.

But divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army who is based in the east and refuses to recognise the administration’s authority.

Battle for influence

Tripoli has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups with shifting allegiances since Qaddafi was overthrown and killed.

The U.N. Panel of Experts on Libya said in a letter to the Security Council on September 5 that armed groups have “increased their influence over Libyan State institutions, promoting their own political and economic interests.”

“The use of violence to take control of State infrastructure and institutions — and threats and attacks against public servants — are widespread across the country and are particularly noticeable in Tripoli,” it said.

“The violent competition to capture the Libyan State is hampering the political transition in the country,” the panel said.

Mitiga airport, a former military air base, has been a civilian airport since Tripoli’s main international airport was badly damaged in fighting between rival militias in 2014.

Since then only Libyan airlines have operated in the country, running internal flights and regular connections to a handful of nations, including Tunisia and Turkey.

Libyan airlines are banned from European Union airspace for “security reasons.”

The electricity network has been damaged by the recent fighting, exacerbating power cuts around Tripoli, that have lasted up to 24 hours.

Militias in the east have prevented rationing in their zones, exacerbating the shortages in the capital and southern Libya, the national electricity company said this week.

Internet and phone networks have also been interrupted, while the water supply has been cut for a week.

On Wednesday, France’s ambassador to the U.N. Francois Delattre said his country believes it “essential” that presidential and legislative elections take place in Libya on December 10, in line with a timetable agreed in May.

Jihadist groups and people traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in Libya.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide attack a day earlier against the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Corporation which killed two employees.

Escalating Libya conflict fueled by international inaction

With reporting from AFP

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