At least three are dead after heavy fighting between rival Libyan militias broke out at Tripoli International Airport on Sunday, while thousands of local residents fled their homes as the attack waged nearby, witnesses said.
Some families were trapped as fighters from local Misrata militias armed with Grad missiles and rockets and anti-aircraft weaponry clashed with Zintan militiamen who are currently in control of the airport, community leaders told Reuters.
Thousands of others were sent scrambling from the area as gunmen set on counter-facing rooftops fired at each other.
"The shells are landing on us from all warring militias," said Mohammed Abdulrahman, a spokesman for the district. "We couldn't reach some families until now."
A thick plume of black smoke was seen rising off an Afriqiyah Airlines plane that had been struck by a missile on the runway and soon became engulfed in flames.
At least three people died in the attack, including one civilian who was killed when a stray rocket hit his home, an unnamed security official told the Associated Press.
At least nine were reported injured and taken to local hospital for treatment, a doctor said.
The fresh bout of fighting came shortly after recent ceasefire efforts fell apart and follows a similar assault at the airport on July 13, in which six were killed and 25 wounded.
The airport has remained closed since early Monday, authorities said.
The powerful Zintan militia had seized the airport and retained control of it since the downfall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The government has cooperated with former rebel forces from Zintan and relied on 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 claimed the airport was soon to be handed back into government hands before the attack last 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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