Fighting prompts U.N. to evacuate staff from Libya

Tripoli’s international airport was hit by a salvo of rockets while all flights to and from Misrata airport were suspended

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The United Nations said on Monday it is withdrawing its staff from Libya temporarily because of deteriorating security after rival militias fought over Tripoli International Airport and a renegade general's forces continued to battle Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya said in a statement posted on its official website that the mission had already been reducing its staff in the country over the past week.

It added that fighting on Sunday and the airport's closure prompted the move to withdraw its staffers.

"This is a temporary measure. Staff will return as soon as security conditions permit. The United Nations, which stood by the Libyan people in their revolution in 2011, will not abandon them as they seek to build a democratic state," the statement said.

"The United Nations looks forward to continuing to work with its Libyan partners and hopes to return to Tripoli as soon as possible," it added.

Tripoli is witnessing one of its worst spasms of violence since the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, as rival militias fight for control of its airport.

On Monday, the capital’s international airport was hit by a salvo of rockets.

"Dozens of rockets were fired at the airport," Al-Jilani al-Dahech, a security official at the scene, told AFP, while another source said an aircraft took a direct hit.

Several Grad rockets hit the airport, damaging the control tower, Reuters news agency quoted a Libyan official as saying.

A Reuters reporter at the airport heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons. Rival militias have been fighting for control of the airport since Sunday.

Also Monday, all flights to and from Misrata airport in the west of the country were suspended.

An airport source in the capital told Agence France Presse the decision to close the airport in third city Misrata was taken for “technical reasons.”

“The headquarters for the entire western region is at Tripoli airport, and following its closure, Misrata airport also has to close,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, of the facility 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the west.

Tripoli international airport was shut down for three days on Sunday after the anti-Islamist Zintan militia that controls it came under attack, airport officials said.

At least six people were killed in heavy exchanges of fire, a health ministry official said.

“Libya is now practically cut off from the outside world,” the airport source said, adding that the three-day closure of Tripoli airport may be extended.

There are now only two other airports operating, at Bayda and Tobruk in the east, the source said.

The Tripoli fighting follows months of clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya's second largest city.

On Monday, fighting there spread to central al-Jalaa hospital, leaving at least four dead and 30 injured, according to a medical official at Benghazi Medical Center.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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