24 killed in Libya clashes, authorities close Benghazi airport

Photo: 24 killed in Libya clashes, authorities close Benghazi airport / Arab World

Twenty-four people were killed in Friday clashes between two militias and army troops loyal to a rogue general in Libya. The country's authorities called the military offensive a "coup" and closed Benghazi's airport, RT reported.

Military aircraft and helicopters fighting for General Khalifa Haftar were involved in the clashes and were spotted flying over Benghazi, Libyan security officials said, as quoted by AP.

"We have closed the airport for the safety of passengers as there were clashes in the city. The airport will be reopened depending on the security situation," Reuters quoted Ibrahim Farkash, director of Benghazi's Benina Airport, as saying.

Haftar's troops surrounded the bases of Islamist militia Rafallah al-Sahati and a militant group known as February 17, according to officials.

According to Haftar's spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi, some Libyan military units have joined the fight against the Islamist militias in an operation he called "Dignity of Libya."

Meanwhile, the commander of the Rafallah al-Sahati brigade, Ismail al-Salabi, referred to the attack as a coup. Another commander, Fathi al-Obeidi, said Haftar's attack is "a rebellion against revolutionaries, the state and the legitimate revolt."

In the wake of the recent unrest, Algeria has sent a team of special forces to evacuate its ambassador to Libya and embassy staff in a military plane after a militant threat to its embassy, Reuters reported, citing officials and a security source.

Following the ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, militias expanded in numbers, filling in the gap while Libya struggled with weak military and police forces.

Just over a year ago, Libya lost US$1 billion due to a disruption in oil production. Violent incidents involving rival armed groups fighting over who gets to guard Libyan oil and gas facilities have become more frequent in post-Gaddafi Libya. Heavily armed militias have seized oil facilities, and local tribes have demanded revenue or jobs while blockading oil fields and sea terminals.

Haftar was an army commander under Gaddafi until the 1980s, when he defected. Following Gaddafi's ouster, Haftar was appointed to rebuild the Libyan military, but was removed shortly after.

Meanwhile Libya's parliament remains split by rivalries, with little democratic reforms made since 2011. The country is now under the rule of its third prime minister since March, and a new constitution is still not ready.

On May 5, Libya's parliament confirmed Ahmed Maiteeq as the country's new prime minister. Deputy speaker Ezzedin al-Awami called the election invalid, but parliamentary president Nouri Abu Sahmain recognized the choice.

The new prime minister was elected after Abdullah al-Thinni resigned in April following an attack by gunmen on his family just one month into his term.

The prime minister before that, Ali Zeidan, escaped the country after being fired because he was not able to stop rebels from capturing oil fields.

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