Militias Attack Tripoli’s Mitiga Airbase
All work at the Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli has been temporarily halted due to fighting between two rival militant groups, say local media.
According to local resource Libya’s Channel, the skirmish, starting Monday morning between two groups of militants armed with a variety of light and heavy weaponry including mortars, has led to the suspension of all domestic and international flights into and out of the airport, with flights diverted to nearby Misrata Airport, about 175 km to the east of Tripoli.
The fighting is reportedly taking place between the Special Deterrence Force, one of the most powerful militant groups in Tripoli, and a brigade of militants from Brigade 33 from Tajoura, a suburb of the city. Both groups are reportedly aligned with the UN-supported Government of National Accord.
Observers reported heavy gunfire and shelling from the vicinity of the airport beginning at about 7:30 am local time. Smoke was reported billowing from the airport. According to local media, at least 3 people, including one civilian, have been killed and six others wounded in the clashes.
A Libya’s Channel correspondent said that civilians were safely evacuated from the airport’s passenger lounge. Schools and government offices in the area have also been closed, and people told to evacuate.
Similiar skirmishes have reportedly taken place on and off over the course of several weeks. On December 13, the same groups exchanged fire on Al-Shat Road, a central thoroughfare along Tripoli’s Mediterranean coast. That skirmish was stopped thanks to mediation.
While the exact reasons for the clashes have yet to be confirmed, sources have indicated that tensions have been rising between the two groups over the detention of several persons by the Special Deterrence Force, which acts as an anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit.
The interim Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, is one of several rival factions seeking control over the country since it was thrown into chaos following an uprising and NATO intervention in 2011. The GNA has failed to come to a settlement with its main rival, the eastern Libyan Tobruk-led House of Representatives, supported by the Libyan National Army. Late last month, LNA commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar said that the GNA has lost its legitimacy and that the Libyan Political Agreement reached in 2015 in Skhirat had expired.
With the Libyan National Army loyal to the Tobruk government, the GNA has been forced to turn to various local armed formations for support.