| BENGHAZI, Libya, July 16
BENGHAZI, Libya, July 16 Twenty aircraft were
damaged by shelling at Libya's main airport in the worst
fighting in the capital Tripoli in months as rival militia
battled for control, officials said on Wednesday.
Tripoli International Airport became a battlefield at the
weekend when a militia launched an attack to try to take control
from a rival armed group, part of the turmoil in Libya three
years after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled.
The fighting, the worst in Tripoli since November, has
halted flights, stranding abroad many Libyans who were planning
to return home for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and
trapping expatriates. The heavy fighting in Tripoli and clashes
in the eastern city of Benghazi prompted the United Nations to
pull its staff out of the North African country.
Libyan carrier Afriqiyah had 13 planes damaged along with
seven from rival Libyan Airlines, company officials told a
televised news conference. Both airlines operate Airbus planes.
"The damage ranges from serious to superficial, and we need
time to see how grave the damage is," said Abdulhakim Al-Fares,
chairman of Afriqiyah Airlines. He gave no figures for the
estimated cost of repairs or replacement aircraft or loss of
A Reuters reporter at the airport on Tuesday saw six damaged
planes, one of them totally burned out. At least 31 planes were
parked at the airport at the time of the shelling.
"We tried to remove the planes from the airport but the
attacking force from the east did not stop shelling which made
it impossible to relocate the aircraft," said government
spokesman Ahmed Lamine.
He was referring to the city of Misrata from which some of
the attackers come, pitting themselves against a rival militia
from Zintan in the northwest which has been protecting the
airport in the absence of state forces since helping to take
Tripoli in August 2011 when Gaddafi's government fell.
Gunfire could be heard on Wednesday at the airport, where
the Zintan militia was still in control of the main perimeter.
The Libyan government has no control over former rebel
fighters who helped topple Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising but
now defy state authority and often battle for political or
Ministry of Transport spokesman Tarek Arwa said Libyan
carriers had started operating flights to Dubai and Istanbul to
bring back citizens stranded abroad, operating out of Misrata
and a smaller airport in Tripoli.
Smaller airports in Zuwara and Ghadames in the west would be
upgraded to serve international destinations to offset the
closure of Tripoli's main airport, he said, without giving a
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum Writing by Ulf
Laessing; Editing by Janet Lawrence)