Bengahzi: Libyan army commander Khalifa Haftar said Saturday his forces seized control of the main airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli, two days after Haftar ordered the army to seize the seat of Libya’s UN-backed government.
Haftar’s media office said in a post online that they took full control of the Tripoli international airport and were working to secure the facility.
They posted photos of troops apparently inside the airport, saying “we are standing at the heart of the Tripoli international airport.”
The battles could be the worst since the 2011 civil war that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The country is governed by rival authorities: The internationally-backed government in Tripoli and the government in the east, which Haftar is aligned with.
Each is backed by an array of militias.
Fayez Al Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, said his government had offered concessions to Haftar “to avoid bloodshed and to end divisions” and was surprised by Haftar’s order to take the capital.
“We were stabbed in the back,” he said Saturday in televised comments, adding that his forces would confront Haftar’s troops with “force and determination.”
The Tripoli airport has not been functional since fighting in 2014 destroyed much of the facility.
The media office said that troops also captured the area of Wadi Al Rabeia, south of Tripoli, amid clashed with militias loyal to Al Sarraj.
Ahmad Al Mesmari, spokesman for the Libyan National Army led by Haftar, said 14 troops had been killed since Haftar declared the offensive.
He said rival militias launched four air strikes Saturday targeting Haftar’s position in the town of Al Aziziya, but that no casualties had been reported.
Al Mesmari said Haftar’s forces declared Tripoli a no-fly zone for warplanes.
Haftar announced Thursday he was deploying the Libyan army toward Tripoli, sparking fears that the tensions could be escalating out of control as militias from the western cities of Zawiya and Misarata said that they have mobilised to confront Haftar.
He also put at risk upcoming peace talks between Libyan rivals brokered by the UN aimed at drawing a roadmap for new elections.
The UN Security Council on Saturday called on Haftar forces to halt all military movements and urged all forces in Libya “to de-escalate and halt military activity.”
The UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, said the UN is determined to hold the planned national conference later this month to set time for possible elections.
Speaking at a news conference in Tripoli, he said he was striving to prevent the new crisis from getting out of control.
“We have worked for one year for this national conference, we won’t give up this political work quickly,” he said.