Airstrike forces closure of Libya’s only operational airport

A Libyan army soldier stands guard sitting on an antiaircraft truck during the handover of the Nawaseen military compound which was the headquarters of Libyan militias in Souk al Juma district Tripoli Libya

Fighting raged around Tripoli and an air strike closed its only functioning airport Monday, April 8, as Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar defied worldwide calls to halt his advance on the capital.

Renewed war in Libya - splintered since Muammar Gaddafi's 2011 fall - threatens to disrupt oil and gas supplies, trigger more migration to Europe, and wreck United Nations hopes for an election.

At least 27 people have been killed, including civilians, since Thursday, according to the health ministry of the Tripoli-based government.

There is also fighting around Tripoli's global airport, 15 miles south of the city center, which has not been operational for years.

His LNA troops have continued to make advances, seizing the south of Libya and its oil fields earlier this year.

The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance into the center from a disused airport.

Six flights were due to take off on Monday before forces from the self-styled LNA, loyal to renegade general Khalifa Hafter who supports a rival House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tobruk, carried out the air strikes, the Libya Observer reported. Ironically, the violence over the next few days has forced the U.S.to evacuate its remaining forces-there for diplomatic security and counterterrorism-from the volatile country.

On Sunday evening, LNA forces had moved up from the airport coming as close as 11 km (seven miles) to the city centre before retreating, residents said.

But the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has armed groups arriving from nearby Misrata to help block the LNA.

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Mr Serraj has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a UN-brokered deal boycotted by Mr Haftar.

The United Nations said 2,800 people had been displaced by the clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped. "The United Nations is deeply concerned for the welfare of the civilian population in the ongoing violence, and of the implications of the attack on the airport", said Salame.

Also Monday, U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said he met with Fayez Sarraj, head of the government in Tripoli, to discuss how the U.N. mission "can assist at this critical and hard juncture".

The offensive has raised fears of return to all-out war in Libya and left a question mark over the UN-led effort to lay the groundwork for elections with the 14 to 16 April conference.

Haftar casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, whose 40 years rule saw torture, disappearances and assassinations.

The LNA says it has 85,000 men, but this includes soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit.

Spokesman Colonel Mohamed Gnounou said it was aimed at "purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces", in reference to Haftar's fighters.

Libya has become the main conduit for African migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe, with many detained if their journey fails and they are sent back.

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