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Libya flights canceled amid militia fighting

August 21, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — Tunisia and Egypt on Thursday canceled flights to neighboring Libya citing security concerns, as militias battle in the capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, where a renegade general has launched airstrikes on Islamist militia barracks.

Tunisia’s Transportation Ministry on Thursday said flights coming from Libya were canceled, citing the need to ensure travelers’ safety in accordance with international standards. Egyptian airport officials said flights from Cairo to Libya have been canceled, though service from second city Alexandria would continue. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Libya is witnessing its worst spasm of violence since Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011. Many of the rebel brigades which helped overthrow the longtime dictator have since been transformed into powerful militias linked to the country’s feuding political blocs.

The fighting in recent weeks has largely destroyed the main international airport in Tripoli, which has been closed for two months, and shut down Benghazi’s Benina airport, as diplomats and other foreigners have fled the country.

The fighting around the Tripoli airport has pitted the powerful Zintan militia from the western mountains against the Islamist-allied Misrata militia, named for the coastal city where it waged some of the most intense battles of the uprising. The Zintan have recently been joined by one of Libya’s largest tribes, the Warshafana, while the Misrata fighters have recruited other militias, including one from Gharyan, a town seen as a gateway to Tripoli.

Earlier this week six people were killed in mysterious airstrikes targeting the Misrata-led militias. The Libyan chief of staff’s media office said the jets used “guided bombs” not in the possession of the army.

In Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolt, Gen. Khalifa Hifter has led a campaign against Islamic extremists, including Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in 2012. Recent days have seen an increase in fighting and airstrikes carried out by Hifter’s forces on extremist strongholds.

Ansar al-Shariah is classified by Washington as a terrorist organization and is alleged to have orchestrated the attack on the mission, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The group, along with other Islamic militias, overran several army bases in Benghazi earlier this month, seizing a large amount of weapons as well as tanks.

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