13 July 2014

Libya: Several Killed After Militias Battle at Airport

Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN
A Libyan rebel fighter

Relative calm has returned to the area surrounding Libya's main airport after clashes. Heavy fighting had erupted among rival militias around the main airport, about 30 kilometers south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Sunday's fighting killed six and wounded 25, the Health Ministry announced, without specifying whether the tolls included civilians. An Islamist group had attacked the airport, roughly 18 miles outside of the capital and controlled by the rival Zintan militia, after the United Nations pulled staff from Libya citing security reasons. The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, a coalition of Islamist militias, claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack.

"The revolutionary forces arrive within the perimeter of Tripoli airport and clash with armed groups inside," the group announced on its Facebook page. There was, however, no government or other official comment on who was involved in the fighting on Sunday.

Authorities have closed the airport for three days, preventing Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz from traveling to a meeting in Tunisia of North African officials on aid to Libya.

'Widespread conflict there'

Sunday's clashes came just hours after a US official warned that Libya's internal conflicts could increase unless a parliament can sit quickly and help draft a new constitution.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Libya and dangerous posturing that could lead to widespread conflict there," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The Zintan militia, a rebel group that helped to topple Libya's longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in the 2011 NATO-backed uprising, has become well-established in Tripoli, controlling the airport and military sites. Many consider the group the armed wing of the liberal movement, which has jockeyed for power with the Islamists who dominate parliament.

Sunday's fighting came weeks after a contested June 25 general election to replace the Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC). The elections saw low turnout and scattered attacks.

Many expect liberals to fill the seats in the new GNC, but, citing fraud, Libya's electoral commission scrapped the results from 24 polling stations on July 6 and said it would not announce the final tally until July 20.

Officially under the jurisdiction of Libya's Defense Ministry, the well-armed and disciplined Zintan militia claimed a May 18 attack on the GNC to demand its dissolution.

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