Flights suspended in Libya’s capital due to rocket fire, says official

A Libyan flag flutters atop the Libyan Consulate in Athens, Greece, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Flights were suspended until further notice at the only functioning airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday due to rockets falling nearby, an airport official said.

The closure of Mitiga Airport comes a day after Turkey’s parliament voted to allow a troop deployment to Libya, deepening fears of an escalation of fighting in the North African country.

Eastern-based forces led by military commander Khalifa Haftar have been waging a campaign since April to take control of Tripoli from forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognised government. 

The offensive soon stalled in the outskirts of the city, but has led to increased international involvement in the conflict.

Mitiga Airport has been repeatedly closed and reopened in recent years because of risks from shelling and air strikes.

It most recently reopened on Dec. 12 after a closure of nearly 3-1/2 months. Flights had been diverted to Misrata, some 200 km (125 miles) to the east of the capital. 

The cause of the rocket fire that shut the airport on Friday was not immediately clear.

Tripoli’s main airport was closed and partially destroyed in an earlier round of fighting in 2014, when Libya split into rival political and military alliances based in the capital and the east.

On Thursday, the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows troops to be deployed in Libya, in a move that paves the way for further military cooperation between Ankara and Tripoli but is unlikely to put boots on the ground immediately.

Turkey’s move comes after Ankara and the internationally recognised government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj signed two separate agreements in November: one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, infuriating Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

The three countries also called on Turkey to refrain from sending troops to Libya, which would violate Libyan national sovereignty and independence.