Tripoli flights suspended


Flights were suspended at the only functioning airport in Tripoli because of rocket fire and shelling, as people in eastern Libya protested Turkish military support for their rivals.

Turkey’s parliament voted to allow troops to be sent to support the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, deepening fears of more fighting. Analysts and officials said Ankara was unlikely to immediately put boots on the ground.

The GNA sought Turkey’s support as it fends off an offensive by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya in early 2019.

Haftar’s forces carried out air strikes in several places on Friday, including south of Sirte and Tripoli.

An increase in air strikes and shelling in and around Tripoli caused the deaths of at least 11 civilians since December and shut down health facilities and schools, the UN mission in Libya said.

Haftar’s Tripoli offensive stalled on the outskirts of the city, but led to increased international involvement in the conflict. Turkey backed the GNA while Haftar received support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan.

Russian military contractors have been deployed with Haftar’s Libyan National Army for several months, diplomats and analysts said.

There were protests in several cities and towns in eastern Libya against the Turkish parliament’s decision.

In Benghazi, where about 3 000 people took to the streets, protesters said they opposed a Turkish “invasion” of Libya, which was part of the Ottoman Empire before coming under Italian occupation.

Haftar gave a televised speech in which he announced a “call to arms and mass mobilisation to defend our land and our honour”.

Three subsidiaries of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) which operate in areas under Haftar’s control – Ras Lanuf Oil and Gas Company, Sirte Oil Co and Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) – said they would boycott Turkish companies.

An engineer from Ras Lanuf said a Turkish company was doing contracting work at Ras Lanuf port since 2017. It was unclear what immediate impact the companies’ statements would have.

Mitiga airport has been repeatedly closed and reopened in recent years because of risks from shelling and air strikes, reopening most recently on December 12 after a closure of nearly 3-1/2 months. It closed early on Friday because of rocket fire nearby, reopened briefly and then shut because of shelling, airport and airline officials said.