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Rockets target Libya airport ahead of regional peace talks

By AFP - Jan 23,2020 - Last updated at Jan 23,2020

This file photo taken on October 29, 2019, shows a view of the Libyan capital Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport. Rocket fire forced the suspension of all flights into and out of Tripoli's sole functioning airport on Wednesday, Libya's embattled UN-recognised government said (AFP photo)

Tripoli — Rocket fire targeted the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport on Wednesday, dealing another setback to peace efforts a day before regional foreign ministers meet in Algeria to discuss the crisis.

Tripoli's Mitiga airport was forced to suspend all flights for several hours after it was targeted by six Grad rockets, just nine days after it reopened following a truce. 

The airport has been hit multiple times since the start of an offensive by forces led by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital from the Government of National Accord (GNA).

World powers have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to find a political solution to the grinding conflict, with neighbouring Algeria to become the latest country to host a meeting on Thursday to discuss ways forward.

The Algerian foreign ministry said chief diplomats from Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali would meet in Algiers to advance "a political settlement to the crisis through an inclusive dialogue between all parties". 

Algeria, which has stayed neutral in the Libyan conflict, shares a border of almost 1,000 kilometres with its neighbour, rocked by violence since the 2011 toppling of dictator Muammar Qadhafi by NATO-backed insurgents.

The meeting comes after a summit last Sunday in Berlin, which saw world leaders commit to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the conflict.

The two sides also agreed to form a military commission charged with finding ways to reach a long-term truce.

It should include five members each from the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli and from Haftar’s forces, which back a rival administration in Benghazi.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council urged the parties to reach a ceasefire deal paving the way for a political process aimed at ending the conflict in the North African country. 

‘New violation’ 

 

Despite repeated appeals from the UN’s envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, Tripoli’s GNA-held airport has been the target of several air raids and rocket strikes since Haftar’s forces launched their offensive.

Located east of the capital, Mitiga is a former military airbase used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport was heavily damaged in fighting in 2014.

GNA forces spokesman Mohammed Gnunu branded the strikes as a “flagrant threat” to the safety of air traffic and a “new violation” of the most recent ceasefire.

Haftar’s forces, which accuse the GNA of using Mitiga for military purposes, say they target “Turkish drones” being launched from the airport to attack their troops in southern Tripoli.

The GNA has denied those accusations.

Turkey has backed the GNA, deploying troops to Libya since early January under a controversional November deal with the Tripoli-based administration. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in the Algerian capital on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit also tied to the Libyan conflict.

Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas is also expected in Algiers Thursday, the Algerian foreign ministry said.

Algiers has hosted a string of foreign leaders and envoys for talks on the crisis, including Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the top diplomats of Egypt, Italy, Turkey and former colonial power France.

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