BEIRUT

Middle East

Libya power handover agreed as clashes rage

Two Libyan soldiers inspect shrapnel marks on a wall on July 22, 2014 after a double suicide bombing on a military base in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi killed at least four soldiers, military and medical officials said. AFP PHOTO/Abdullah DOMA

TRIPOLI: The General National Congress, which has governed violence-wracked Libya in the wake of the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, said Wednesday that it would hand over legislative power to a newly elected parliament August 4.

But hopes that the announcement would signal an end to fighting among rival factions were dashed as a more than weeklong battle intensified for control of Tripoli airport.

“Monday, Aug. 4 has been set as the date for the transfer of power ... to the elected chamber,” the GNC said in a statement signed by its speaker, Nuri Abu Sahmein. The handover is to take place within two weeks as specified in Monday’s publication of the election results.

Under a law passed by the GNC, the new assembly is to sit in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was the bastion of the 2011 uprising but has since epitomized the lawlessness of post-Gadhafi Libya.

In Tripoli, there was no sign of a cease-fire Wednesday between the rival factions fighting around the capital’s airport.

A fresh appeal from Libya’s transitional government for a humanitarian truce fell on deaf ears, with explosions heard from the center of the capital and plumes of smoke clearly visible.

“Rockets fell on several homes and many families have fled the fighting,” local resident Mohammad Farhat, whose home on the airport road was hit by a missile, told AFP.

The airport has been closed since July 13 due to clashes that have left at least 47 dead and 120 injured, according to the Health Ministry.

The clashes started with an assault on the airport by a coalition of armed groups, mainly Islamists, which has since been backed by factions from the eastern town of Misrata.

The assailants are battling to flush out fellow former rebels from Zintan, southwest of the capital, who have controlled the airport for the past three years.

The battle has caused serious damage at the airport and at least a dozen aircraft have been destroyed or partially destroyed by fire.

An airport spokesman has put the cost of the damage at “several hundred million dollars.”

Viewed by their opponents as the armed wing of Libya’s liberal movement, the Zintan brigades hold several other strategic military and civil sites in southern districts of Tripoli.

The battle is seen as part of a struggle for political and regional influence at a time when the new parliament, elected in June 25 polls, prepares to take power.

The liberal factions have won the most seats in the new assembly, unlike in the previous Islamist-controlled GNC, according to political analysts, and the Islamists are now trying to reassert their influence by military means.

This week alone, violence in Benghazi has cost the lives of at least 43 people, according to medical and military sources. At least five soldiers were killed Tuesday in a double suicide bombing on a special forces base under the command of Col. Wanis Abu Khamada in the southeast of the city.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

The General National Congress, which has governed violence-wracked Libya in the wake of the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, said Wednesday that it would hand over legislative power to a newly elected parliament August 4 .

But hopes that the announcement would signal an end to fighting among rival factions were dashed as a more than weeklong battle intensified for control of Tripoli airport.

The battle has caused serious damage at the airport and at least a dozen aircraft have been destroyed or partially destroyed by fire.

At least five soldiers were killed Tuesday in a double suicide bombing on a special forces base under the command of Col. Wanis Abu Khamada in the southeast of the city.


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