BEIRUT

Middle East

Libya’s Islamist militias claim control of capital

A building which witnesses say was hit by a rocket burns in the Sarraj district of Tripoli. REUTERS/Stringer

CAIRO: Libya’s Islamist militias said Sunday they have consolidated their hold on Tripoli and its international airport, driving out rival militias to the outskirts of the capital following a weekslong battle for control of the strategic hub.

Egypt’s president denied any military involvement in Libya, a day after Islamist militias accused Cairo of bombing their posts in Tripoli, Egypt’s state news agency reported.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s comments came in response to accusations a day earlier by Islamist militias in Tripoli, who blamed Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for a series of mysterious airstrikes Saturday and last Monday. Two airstrikes killed 15 fighters and wounded another 30 Saturday.

Unidentified warplanes attacked targets in Tripoli again Sunday, residents said, hours after forces from the city of Misrata said they had seized the main airport.

Tripoli residents heard jets followed by explosions at dawn but no more details were available.

Libya’s air force denied it was behind the attacks, in part because it didn’t have the capabilities or technology to carry out such guided attacks. This has raised suspicions that foreign countries, including European countries, were behind the strikes. Italy, Algeria and other countries have also denied being behind them.

On the ground, the Islamist militia umbrella group Dawn of Libya said it has also taken hold of other locations in the capital controlled by the rival militias, drawing to a close one chapter in a prolonged confrontation between the Islamist-allied militia, largely from Misrata, and the powerful militia from the western mountains of Zintan.

The fight has largely destroyed the airport and scarred the capital, prompting diplomats, foreign nationals and thousands of Libyans to flee.

The violence comes as part of a backlash by Islamist factions after losing their power in parliament following June elections and in the face of a campaign by a renegade military general against extremist Islamist militias in Benghazi.

A Dawn of Libya militia field commander said his forces are in control of Tripoli and adjacent cities, pushing back the rival Zintan forces some 90 km south of the capital. It was not possible to reach members of the Zintan militias. The commander spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief reporters.

The fighting on the ground has mirrored a political standoff between Islamists and the outgoing parliament they controlled, and anti-Islamist groups who control the newly elected parliament. After claiming control over the airport, Dawn of Libya called on the outgoing parliament to convene in the capital to take “the necessary measures to protect state sovereignty.” On Sunday, the speaker of the outgoing parliament, Omar Hmeidan, said the body would convene until it hands over power to the newly elected deputies.

Further inflaming the situation, the newly elected parliament described Dawn of Libya as “outlawed” and “terrorist groups” who fight to undermine the legitimacy of the state.

The newly elected parliament has been convening in Tobruk due to security concerns amid growing lawlessness in the capital and Benghazi.

Fresh clashes Saturday in Benghazi pitting forces loyal to renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar against a group of Islamist militias called The Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council left eight troops killed and 35 wounded, a health official said. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the militias.

Islamist militias also controlled an air defense base near the city’s international airport, a security official said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 25, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

On the ground, the Islamist militia umbrella group Dawn of Libya said it has also taken hold of other locations in the capital controlled by the rival militias, drawing to a close one chapter in a prolonged confrontation between the Islamist-allied militia, largely from Misrata, and the powerful militia from the western mountains of Zintan.

A Dawn of Libya militia field commander said his forces are in control of Tripoli and adjacent cities, pushing back the rival Zintan forces some 90 km south of the capital.

Fresh clashes Saturday in Benghazi pitting forces loyal to renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar against a group of Islamist militias called The Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council left eight troops killed and 35 wounded, a health official said.


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