At least 20 people have been killed following fierce clashes in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Monday, January 15, 2018.
In a report by Reuters, the clashes also saw the airport in the capital city shutting down following damages on planes during what the government described as a failed attempt to spring militants from a nearby prison.
The attack, it was further reported, triggered the heaviest fighting in Tripoli after months of claims by the Government of National Accord (GNA) to have largely stabilised the city.
During the clashes, automatic gunfire and artillery rounds were reportedly heard from the city centre early in the day and authorities at Mitiga airport said flights had been suspended until further notice.
The report further pointed out that in late afternoon, the Mitiga airport was empty when the clashes had largely died down.
However, pilots reportedly flew several aircraft across the capital to the international airport, which has been closed since 2014 due to damage from earlier fighting, in an effort to protect them.
Damage on airplanes
Reuters reported that an Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A319 was spotted in a hangar at Mitiga airport with a hole in its roof from artillery fire.
In the same vein, not less than four other aircrafts reportedly suffered what appeared to be lesser damage from gunfire, including two jets operated by Libyan Wings and two Buraq Air Boeing 737s that the airline said it was preparing to fly out of the country for maintenance.
The clashes, according to Reuters, pitted one of Tripoli’s most powerful armed groups, the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) against a rival faction based in the city’s Tajoura neighbourhood.
It was reported that the Rada acts as an anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit and controls Mitiga airport as well as a large prison next to it.
Rada, it was also reported, is aligned with the GNA, hence, it is occasionally targeted by rivals whose members it has arrested.
Rada reportedly revealed that the Mitiga airport had been attacked by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir ‘the Cow’ and others it had been seeking following their escape from a prison it controls in Tripoli.
The GNA confirmed that the attack on the Mitiga airport had endangered the lives of passengers, affected aviation safety and terrorised residents.
“This assault was aimed at freeing terrorists from Daesh (Islamic State) and al Qaeda and other organisations,” GNA said in a statement.
The attack had been repelled, and an operation to secure the area was ongoing.
Rada posted pictures of streets around the airport, showing pick-up trucks mounted with guns, armoured vehicles and a tank.
According to the report by Reuters, at least 20 people were confirmed dead in the attack while 60 people were reportedly wounded.
Those reportedly wounded include civilians, a health ministry official said.