October 29, 2019 / 1:41 PM / 17 days ago

Libya reopens Tripoli's Mitiga airport after two months of closure

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s internationally recognized government on Tuesday reopened Mitiga, Tripoli’s only functioning airport, after almost two months of closure, and flights will resume within two weeks, the transportation minister said.

A convoy vehicle is seen after reopening of the Mitiga airport in Tripoli, Libya October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

The airport had been shut since Sept. 1 after being repeatedly struck by artillery fire and air strikes blamed on eastern forces of Khalifa Haftar, which have been trying to take the capital since April.

Libya has been engulfed in a power struggle since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

“The return of flights depends on the carriers and the airport management. It needs time to re-schedule flights, possible a week to 10 days or two weeks,” Transport Minister Milad Matoq told reporters.

The airport’s main terminals are under maintenance, a Reuters reporter at the airport said.

Mitiga, just east of central Tripoli, has repeatedly come under attack in recent months, forcing it to halt flights for several hours.

The airport has been targeted during fighting involving the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force, which launched an offensive in April for control of the capital and has been battling forces aligned with the Tripoli government.

The LNA had said it was targeting an operations room for Turkish drones at the facility. Turkey backs the Tripoli government, while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have provided support for Haftar.

“The airport is free of any military manifestations,” Matoq said.

“We had to make sure that all parts of the airport, the runway and the arrival and departure terminals were free of military manifestations,” said U.N. Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, adding that there was no excuse to target the airport.

“What we visited today is civilian places... we made sure that there is no weapons in it.”

The U.N. plans to open its own terminal at Mitiga. It also will be used by diplomatic missions and voluntary flights.

“Our presence will add to the civil character to the airport,” Salame said.

Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Ulf Laessing and Bill Berkrot

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