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Airstrikes target Islamist strongholds in Tripoli as militias claim airport - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, burns after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district in Tripoli August 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, burns after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district in Tripoli August 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Militias from the Libyan city of Misrata announced their capture of Tripoli’s international airport on Saturday, after more than a month of fierce fighting between them and rival militias from Zintan, while Asharq Al-Awsat received reports of airstrikes targeting militia strongholds in the city.

Sources said 15 were people were killed and 22 injured during airstrikes by fighter jets during the early hours of Saturday, adding that the death toll was the highest since airstrikes on the militias began last Monday.

The airstrikes also hit a military building in the city, which was taken over by forces belonging to the Islamist “Libyan Dawn” movement—which includes the forces from Misrata—a source from the movement told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the airstrikes resulted in the death of 10 people with “tens more injured.”

The sources also insisted the planes belonged to the Libyan air force—contrary to reports that foreign fighter jets were involved in the airstrikes—and that they were taking off from an “unknown airport” outside the capital.

The Misratan militias blamed the United Arab Emirates and Egypt for the air attacks, leading Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to issue a denial on Sunday, according to Egypt’s state news agency. Western and NATO officials have also denied involvement in the attacks.

So far, the air attacks have exclusively targeted positions held by militias from Misrata, who have been fighting for control with rivals from Zintan as well as tribal forces and those loyal to rogue army general Khalifa Haftar, for control of the airport.

Haftar claims he and his fighters are fighting on behalf of Libya’s newly-elected House of Representatives, which has relocated to the city of Tobruk in a bid to escape the violence in Tripoli.

The Misrata militias and the “Libyan Dawn” have denounced the new body, and have called for the reinstatement of the previous transitional government, the Islamist-dominated General National Congress.

Saqr Al-Goroushi, a high-ranking air force official and follower of Gen. Haftar, said on Saturday that the jets that carried out the airstrikes in Tripoli were part of a “joint force.”

When asked whether jets from other countries were taking part in the airstrikes he said: “This will be revealed at the right time.”

Following the airstrikes, residents said they heard the sound of gunfire and heavy artillery coming from the areas surrounding Tripoli International Airport.

A security source from Tripoli, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “unprecedented fighting” had broken out in the areas around the airport, situated in the north of the capital, all of which are residential, he added.

The source said that the Zintani militia and their allies were likely to attempt to regroup and counterattack. “What we fear is the prospect of extremely fierce street battles,” the source said. “We now expect that the militias from Zintan and the Sawaeq and Qaqaa militias will descend upon Al-Dreebi, the Islamic District, Qarhi and Kshlaf in order to drum up support for themselves [from among the locals]. It will be the fiercest of street battles.”

He added: “The Zintani forces will also head to Aziziya . . . which has large farmlands spread across long and wide plains. It will be a bloody war, one which will see exceptional missions, kidnappings and assassinations.”