* Egyptians in Benghazi must travel by land to Egypt
* Tripoli airport functions, permission for flights pending
CAIRO Feb 22 Runways at Libya's Benghazi
airport have been destroyed in the violence that has gripped the
country and passenger planes cannot land there, Egypt's Foreign
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Tuesday.
Libyan security has cracked down on anti-government
protesters and fighting has spread to the capital Tripoli after
erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week with no signs
of Leader Muammar Gaddafi stepping down after 41 years in power.
Egypt's foreign minister told his nationals in Libya to, if
possible, remain in their houses and secure themselves with
enough food and water and to stay off the streets.
Up to 1.5 million Egyptian nationals live in Libya. Egypt
has been unable to evacuate citizens by air from the second city
of Benghazi. It still awaits permission from Libyan air traffic
authorities to land its planes at Tripoli airport.
"Regarding east of Libya, the Benghazi airport runways have
been destroyed. It is not possible for Egyptair flights or any
other flights to land in that airport," Aboul Gheit told
reporters at a news conference.
He called on Egyptian nationals living in Libya to stay off
the streets but said those determined to leave Benghazi must
travel by land in groups to reach the Egyptian border.
"If Egyptians need to leave, and I always advise to stay
home, then they would have to travel to Egyptian borders by land
some 500 km in proximity to danger. Such trips must be in groups
and in busses," Aboul Gheit said.
Armed forces at the border have set up hospitals, tents and
transportation to move arriving nationals to Marsa Matrouh, a
northern coastal area, the minister said.
He added that Egypt's foreign ministry has arranged to send
four Egyptair flights daily to evacuate citizens but permission
for flights to land in Tripoli is pending.
"Regarding west of Libya and the Tripoli airport, we must
get certification to land flights. The reaction of the Libyan
side is unclear," Aboul Gheit said.
"This is a big (rescue) operation very similar to the one in
Iraq in 1991," Aboul Gheit said in reference to Egypt's efforts
to evacuate its nationals during the Iraq war.
Unrest which deposed the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt
have shaken the Arab world and inspired protests across the
Middle East and North Africa, threatening the grip of
long-entrenched autocratic leaders.