Air strike halts Tripoli flights as thousands flee Libya clashes

Arturo Kim
April 10, 2019

The pullout comes as a Libyan commander's forces advanced toward the capital of Tripoli and clashed with rival militias.

At least one jet was seen firing rockets at the Mitiga airport in northern Tripoli on Monday afternoon.

"In the area around the airport, civilians were terrified immediately after this air strike".

In another sign of the situation worsening on the ground, a contingent of U.S. forces supporting the U.S. Africa Command evacuated Libya for security reasons, a U.S. statement said.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Hifter who last week launched the push on Tripoli, acknowledged striking the Mitiga airport, barely 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the city center.

But the Tripoli government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, which reported 11 deaths without specifying on which side, had armed groups arriving from nearby Misrata to block the LNA.

The death toll continues to rise in Libya, where attacks have killed more than 45 people in the last few days.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, said Monday the fighting had displaced more than 2,800 people, blocked rescuers from reaching casualties and damaged electricity lines.

United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame met the Prime Minister in his Tripoli office to discuss "this critical and hard juncture", the UN's Libya mission said.

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The violence has thrown into doubt a United Nations plan for an April 14 to16 conference to plan elections as a way out of the anarchy since the Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi eight years ago.

The EU's foreign policy chief on Monday added her voice to those urging the eastern strongman to stop his offensive, in the wake of calls for restraint by the UN Security Council and the United States.

Haftar casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, whose 40 years rule saw torture, disappearances and assassinations. Its elite Saiqa (Lightning) force, numbers some 3,500, while Haftar's sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.

Mr Serraj said he had offered concessions to Gen Haftar to avoid bloodshed, only to be "stabbed in the back".

Eastern Libyan forces carried out air strikes on the southern part of Tripoli on Sunday and made progress towards the city centre, residents said, escalating an operation to take the capital as the United Nations failed to achieve a truce.

France established close relations with Haftar under the Socialist government of former President Francois Hollande and his defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

France's stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought a leading role to end the turmoil in its former colony.

Forces allied to the Tripoli government meanwhile announced their own operation called "Volcano of Anger" to defend the capital, a spokesman said, without giving details.

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