Mahmud Turkia / AFP / Getty Images

Deadly clashes erupt in Libya, airports shut down

The violence forced the United Nations to pull its staff from the country, though it says the move is temporary

The United Nations on Monday pulled its staff out of Libya where at least 10 people were killed Monday in fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi and in the capital Tripoli, forcing the closure of the international airport. The fighting was the worst in Tripoli for six months.

In Benghazi, at least four people have been killed and 30 wounded — mostly civilians — in heavy fighting between state security forces and rebels since late Sunday. Forces loyal to renegade former general Khalifa Haftar bombarded rebel bases there as part of his campaign to oust rivals. At least 10 houses were hit with missiles, and government offices and banks were forced to close.

Militias also clashed in the capital Tripoli on Sunday, killing at least six people and injuring 25, shutting the main airport and air control center and effectively leaving Libya with no international flights.

The United Nations mission in Libya said the closure of Tripoli International Airport and the deteriorating security situation made it impossible to fulfill its work. In a statement posted on its official website, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya said that the mission had already been reducing its staff in the country over the past week.

"This is a temporary measure. Staff will return as soon as security conditions permit. The United Nations, which stood by the Libyan people in their revolution in 2011, will not abandon them as they seek to build a democratic state," the statement read.

It added: "The United Nations looks forward to continuing to work with its Libyan partners and hopes to return to Tripoli as soon as possible."

Three years after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya has slipped deeper into chaos with its weak government and new army unable to control brigades of former rebel fighters and militias who often battle for political and economic power. The militias, many of which originate from rebel forces that fought Gadhafi, became powerful players in post-war Libya, filling a void left by weak police and a shattered army struggling to keep control of the airport.

Since Sunday, rival militias have been fighting for control of the Tripoli International Airport. Several rockets hit the airport, damaging the control tower, a Libyan official said. On Monday, civil aviation authorities announced a three-day closure of the airport. Shells raining down hit airplanes, damaged shuttle buses and airport entrances, and landed in the parking lot, an airport security official said.

Among the planes hit was an Airbus from Libya's state-owned Afriqiyah Airways worth $200 million, according to the official Facebook page of its sister airline, Libyan Arab Airlines. It said the crew was transferred to Libya's third largest city of Misrata to operate international flights from there.

Tripoli airport and Misrata city airport were closed on Monday which, along with the closure two months ago of Benghazi airport, leaves the country with only a land route to Tunisia — a flashback to the 1990s when Libya was under U.N. sanctions.

The Tripoli air control center covering western Libya was closed because it was not safe for staff to go to work, aviation officials and state news agency Lana said Monday. The control center is responsible for air traffic in Tripoli, Misrata and Sabha. 

That leaves only the tiny Labraq and Tobruk airports in the east, with few international connections, open for traffic. People living in western Libya must make an arduous road journey to Tunisia.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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