Eastern Libyan military says controls former Tripoli airport

Soldiers from the self-styled army of Libyan Strongman Khalifa Haftar take part in a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi. (File photo: AFP)

Eastern Libyan forces on Friday seized the former Tripoli International Airport on the southern outskirts of the capital, a spokesman said.

Tripoli is home to Libya’s internationally recognized government.

Ahmed Mismari also told reporters his forces were in control of Tarhouna and Aziziya, two towns near Tripoli. He said five of his troops had been killed.

Armed clashes broke out on Friday south of Libya’s capital Tripoli between the pro-government alliance and forces loyal to eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar.

A unity government source said the fighting struck regions less than 50 kilometers south of the capital.

The press office of Haftar’s force said there had been “violent fighting on the edge of Tripoli with armed militias.”

The UN Security Council on Friday called on Libyan forces under Khalifa Haftar to halt their advance on Tripoli, warning the military move was putting Libya’s stability at risk.

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Tripoli is the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government. In 2014, he assembled former Gaddafi soldiers and in a three-year battle seized the main eastern city of Benghazi, then this year took the south with its oilfields.

The escalation surprised the United Nations. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres had been in the capital this week to help organize a national reconciliation conference planned for later this month.

But on Thursday LNA forces took Gharyan, about 80 km south of Tripoli after skirmishes with forces allied to Tripoli-based, UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.

They further moved north coming as close as 40 km to Tripoli by taking the village of Suq al-Khamis after some fighting, a resident and an eastern military source said.

In the evening, the LNA said they had taken control of the areas of Qasr ben Ghashir and Wadi al-Rabie on the southern ouskirts of Tripoli, near the former Tripoli International Airport, closed since a city battle in 2014.

There was no independent confirmation, but a video posted online purportedly showed LNA fighters inside Qasr ben Ghashir.

Last Update: 21:41 KSA 00:41 - GMT 21:41