BENGHAZI, Libya – Forces loyal to rival Libyan army commander Khalifa Hifter said Saturday they seized control of the main airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli, two days after Hifter ordered his forces to seize the seat of Libya’s U.N.-backed government.
Hifter’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.”
Hifter’s offensive on Tripoli could plunge the oil-rich country into another spasm of violence, possibly the worst since the 2011 civil war that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country is governed by rival authorities: The internationally backed government in Tripoli and the government in the east, which Hifter is aligned with. Each are backed by an array of militias.
There was no immediate statement from the U.N.-backed government, the militias that support it, or the U.N.
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 el-Rabeia, south of Tripoli, amid clashed with rival militias backing the government of Fayez Sarraj in Tripoli.
Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the self-styled Libyan National Army lead by Hifter, said 14 troops were killed since Hifter declared the offensive. He said rival militias launched four airstrikes Saturday targeting Hifter’s position in the town of al-Aziziya. He said no causalities reported from the airstrikes.
Al-Mosmari said Hifter’s forces declared Tripoli a no-fly zone for warplanes.
Hifter, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, announced Thursday he was deploying his forces 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 mobilized to confront Hifter.
He also put at risk upcoming peace talks between Libyan rivals brokered by the U.N. aimed at drawing a roadmap for new elections.
The U.N. Security Council on Saturday called on Hifter forces to halt all military movements and urged all forces in Libya “to de-escalate and halt military activity.”
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