TRIPOLI: Fighting raged around Tripoli and an air strike closed its only functioning airport Monday, as Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar defied international calls to halt his advance on the capital, reports AFP.
Thousands were also reported by the United Nations to be fleeing the capital city in the face of Haftar’s surprise assault which has left dozens dead.French President Emmanuel Macron held a telephone interview with Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
The internationally recognised GNA said Macron had spoken of his “total opposition to the offensive against the capital and the endangering of civilian lives”.
The French presidency confirmed the call took place, without releasing details of the discussion.
The EU’s foreign policy chief added her voice to those urging Haftar to stop his offensive, after calls for restraint by the UN Security Council and the United States. “I make a very strong appeal to Libyan leaders and in particular to Haftar to stop all military activities... and to return to the negotiation table”, Federica Mogherini said after talks with EU foreign ministers.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army claimed Monday’s air strike against Mitiga airport, east of the capital.
LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari said the strike targeted a MiG-23 military plane and a helicopter. A security source at the airport said the strike hit a runway without causing casualties.The UN’s envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, denounced the strike.
“This attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure,” Salame said. A spokesman for national carrier Libyan Airlines said the civil aviation authority decided “to suspend aerial traffic until further notice”.
An airport source, who did want to be named, confirmed the suspension. The oil-rich northern African country has been rocked by violent power struggles between an array of armed groups since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.