Shelling of Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital in recent days, hit fuel tanks and damaged passenger planes, the Transport Ministry said in a statement. Mitiga is the last functioning airport in the Libyan capital, though civilian flights stopped in March because of repeated shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, part of the National Oil Corporation, said its jet fuel tanks at Mitiga caught fire after coming under attack and firemen were working to control the blaze. The Transport Ministry, blaming eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar, said one of the damaged planes was preparing to fly to Spain to retrieve Libyans stranded in Europe by the coronavirus lockdown.
Video shared with Reuters by an airport worker showed plumes of black smoke billowing over the apron. Photographs showed shrapnel damage sprayed across the nose of a passenger plane. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), with frequent shelling of the capital.
According to the United Nations, four fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of the year were caused by LNA ground fighting. Late on Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli was shelled, leading the European Union to condemn the incident, which it said was “attributal to Haftar’s forces”. LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari denied the LNA had shelled the area. He has not yet commented on Saturday’s shelling at Mitiga. However, pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones. The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, says Turkey has established a military drone base at Mitiga, but the GNA denies this.
Meanwhile Libya Observer reports the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Italy,l saying that Khalifa Haftar’s shelling near Italy’s embassy in Tripoli was out of his “arrogance and weakness at the same time”.
Maria Sirini said that some of Haftar’s loyalists had been showing despair, adding that when he was on the advance and now when he is facing hurdles, Italy still believes there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict. She said Italy’s only agenda in Libya is reaching a cessation of hostilities and resuming Geneva talks to reach a solution away from the country’s fragmentation and partition.
“Operation IRINI that aims to monitor arms embargo in Libya will not be aimed to block one party over the other, it will work under the oversight of Italian leadership and will be very integrated, transparent and balanced in its work. It won’t be a naval mission only, but also air surveillance missions to monitor movements on the land.” She said about the European Union’s new naval mission off Libya’s coast.
She also said the situation on the ground was aggravating due to the emergency situation amid COVID-19 outbreak and amid the continuing blockade on oil production and exports.
Meanwhile, another diplomat in Italy had slammed Haftar’s shelling near his country’s embassy in Tripoli and the residence of ambassador Giuseppe Buccino, saying it want’s random as “Italy is targeted by Haftar’s militias”, saying Haftar is becoming more desperate and the attacks are evidence for his losses on the ground.
On Friday, MaltaToday reported that Malta has formally given notice to the European Commission that it will no longer commit any military assets to the EU’s Operation IRINI, Malta Today reported on Friday.
The newspaper said that Malta will vote to freeze financing for Operation IRINI, a naval mission that aims to monitor arms traffic into Libya. Malta would also be using its veto to block the planned extension of Operation IRINI through the use of further military vessels.
Malta has now told the Special Athena Committee it will veto decisions on Operation IRINI that concern spending procedures for disembarkation of migrants, port diversions, and the eligibility of drones.
The Maltese government will also inform the European Commission that it will no longer provide boarding team to Operation IRINI, a mission that has come under harsh criticism from the Libyan Government of National Accord for “bias”.