At least six are dead and 25 wounded after heavy clashes between rival Libyan militias fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport early on Sunday morning, as flights were halted and runways closed, the Health Ministry said.
Video and images have captured black smoke billowing over the airport as local Misrata militias armed with rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weaponry stormed the airport controlled by Zintan militiamen.
According to local media, men in vehicles bearing the markings of Misrata militia opened fire with heavy artillery and gunfire, hitting a Libyan Airlines plane and transport aircraft.
All domestic and international flights were suspended after Civil Aviation authorities closed the airport for security reasons. The airport will remain shut for at least three days, a spokesperson said.
The Zintan militia had seized the airport and retained control of it since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The government has cooperated with former rebel forces from Zintan and relied on the them to provide security as it struggles to retain control of rival militia factions that helped oust the former dictator and then stepped in to fill the power vacuum.
Authorities claim the airport was soon to be handed back into government hands before the attack on Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
The militias, originating from varied communities and tribes, fall on various sections of the political spectrum — from liberal government-supporting groups and moderates to powerful Islamist and rebel factions vying to advance their own financial and political dominance.
Even the militia who are ostensibly cooperating with the government or have even been put on state payroll — such as the Misratis — have continued to clash with or undermine government authorities and each other.
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Image via Wikimedia Commons