Members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) pose for a picture as they head out of Benghazi to reinforce troops advancing to Tripoli. April 7 2019 | Photo: Reuters / Esam Omran Al-Fetori
Members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) pose for a picture as they head out of Benghazi to reinforce troops advancing to Tripoli. April 7 2019 | Photo: Reuters / Esam Omran Al-Fetori

An escalation of fighting in Libya is threatening to turn into "an all-out conflict," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned. An airstrike near Tripoli has shut down the capital's only functioning airport.

The United Nations strongly condemned an escalation of violence in Libya on Monday and urged for fighting to stop following an airstrike east of the capital Tripoli.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "the immediate halt of all military operations in order to de-escalate the situation and prevent an all-out conflict."

Guterres also said he "strongly condemns the military escalation and ongoing fighting in and around Tripoli, including the aerial attack today by a Libyan National Army (LNA) aircraft against Mitiga airport."

An airstrike on the airport outside of Tripoli shut down the capital's only functioning airport. The attack was later claimed by Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar and his LNA, who said they targeted a military plane and helicopter.

Late on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte spoke with Libya's UN-backed prime minister in Tripoli, Fayez al-Sarraj, to discuss security developments and the escalation of violence.

The UN's World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that health facilities near Tripoli reported 47 people killed and 181 wounded in the violence of recent days.

The UN has urged for a humanitarian pause to allow civilians trapped in the fighting to escape. Their appeal was not heeded, with thousands of people attempting to flee the area.

Speaking to DW on Tuesday, Charles Gurdon of the UK-based publisher of Libya Focussaid: "Powerful militias were created mainly around towns so that they fought the revolution and they have revolutionary legitimacy and credentials, but, effectively, they have bullied their way into into the country."

"The Government of National Accord, the internationally recognized government, has no political power of its own. It relies on the militias for security," Gurdon said. "And so, therefore, until you can create a proper national army and security services, then there are going to be problems."

Libya in chaos

Last week, fighting between pro-government troops and militias in Libya escalated after Haftar's forces launched a military offensive to capture Tripoli.

The Tripoli-based government has accused Haftar of betraying a UN-backed transition deal that was agreed last year. The deal included holding national elections by the end of 2019.

The authority of Libya's UN-backed government is not recognized by a parallel government in the east of the country.

Libya has been rocked by violence and deadly power struggles between several armed groups since NATO-backed rebels overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

rs/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

First published: April 9, 2019

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