Fierce fighting erupts around Tripoli airport, seven dead

Smoke rises near buildings after heavy fighting between rival militias broke out near the airport in Tripoli July 13, 2014

(Reuters) – Heavy fighting broke out between rival militias vying for control of Libya’s main airport on Sunday, killing at least seven people and forcing a halt of all flights in the worst fighting in the capital for six months.

Explosions and anti-aircraft gunfire were heard from early morning on the airport road and other parts of Tripoli until the situation seemed to calm down in the late afternoon.

Residents said that militiamen from the northwestern region of Zintan who had controlled the airport came under fire, and local TV footage suggested that the attacking rebels were from the western city of Misrata.

The fighting is part of growing turmoil in the North African oil producer, where the government is unable to control battle-hardened militias that helped to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but continue to defy state authority…

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The Financial Times adds:

The international airport in the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya’s second-biggest city, has been closed for weeks because of fighting between forces loyal to the renegade ex-general Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militias who have dominated the country’s east and are believed to be behind a campaign of assassinations targeting the nation’s professional security forces.

The latest round of fighting appeared to pit Zintan’s militias against powerful rivals from the city of Misurata and their Islamist allies. Tensions have been building between the liberal and Islamist camps for months, with both sides vying for control of the capital. June 25 parliamentary elections meant to ease tensions appear to have been inconclusive and some have alleged fraud.

Libya has recently managed to cut deals with eastern militia groups who had seized control and blockaded key oil installations but has been unable to increase oil production beyond a few hundred thousand barrels a day because of incessant political and security woes. The country was producing as many as 1.4m barrels a few months after the 2011 overthrow of the late ruler Muammer Gaddafi’s regime.