TRIPOLI – Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar relaunched on Monday an offensive against Tripoli’s airports.
Warplanes attacked the former international airport to the south of the coastal capital and the Mitiga airport to the east of the city.
The bombings forced the closure of the city’s only functioning airport, Maitiga, with all flights diverted to the state of Misrata 200 km to the east.
Khalifa Haftar, leader of the so-called Tobruk government and Libyan National Army, whose power is concentrated in eastern and southern Libya, launched a military offensive against the UN-backed Tripoli government, a relatively unstable executive fronted by Fayez al-Sarraj.
A military source from the Tripoli government, officially known as the Government of National Accord, said the UN-backed authorities retained control of the airport despite the onslaught from Haftar’s forces.
The bombing campaigns coincided with ground assaults around the now defunct international airport in Suq al-Khamis, located about 24 kilometers (15 miles) from downtown Tripoli.
Renewed violence near the Libyan capital Tripoli has forced the evacuation of more than 2,800 people, prompting the United Nations and the European Union on Monday to call on warring parties to respect a temporary truce.
“I think the first message we need to pass is a full implementation of the humanitarian truce to allow civilians and the wounded to be evacuated from the city and to avoid any further military action, any further military escalation, and return to the political negotiations,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said.
The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, urged both sides of the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures, such as schools and hospitals, and to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“The upsurge in violence is further increasing the misery of refugees and migrants arbitrarily in detained in detentions centers in areas of active conflict,” she added in a statement.
Haftar intensified his assault on Sunday leading to an unspecified number of casualties and raising fears that neighborhoods in southern Tripoli were heading toward a bloodbath.
Libya has been a failed state and victim of chaos and civil war ever since NATO contributed militarily to the victory of the different rebel groups against the dictatorship of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011.
Since 2014, there have been two conflicting powers, a government supported by the UN in Tripoli – which controls the capital and some areas to the west – and another established in the eastern city of Tobruk under the rule of the controversial marshal, who dominates around 70 percent of Libyan territory.
If Haftar, who was part of the military leadership that allowed the late Gaddafi to take the helm in Libya in 1969, were to fully control the capital he would then control practically the entire country.
In February, LNA troops seized control of the main cities in southern Libya, as well as the western oil fields of El Sharara and El Fil, on which the Tripoli-based government depends for energy and revenue.
The controversial warlord has dubbed his offensive Operation Flood of Dignity.
The Tripoli government also received support from the city-state of Misrata, Libya’s main commercial port and the self-declared enemy of the marshal.
The Misrata government sent a column of artillery vehicles and a battalion of militants to join Tripoli forces in their counter-offensive against LNA units.