Monday, March 23, 2015

Bombing of Tripoli airport by Haftar delays arrival of Tripoli delegates at Libyan peace talks

The internationally recognized government in Tripoli sent planes to bomb Tripoli's only functioning airport just as some representatives from the Tripoli government were preparing to leave for scheduled peace talks in Morocco.
The Matiga airport is also a military base but is now used for commercial flights as the main airport was badly damaged in earlier clashes between forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, now commander of the Libyan Armed forces of the Tobruk government, and Libya Dawn. His allies were driven out of the airport by Libya Dawn militia associated with the Tripoli government. At the time, Haftar also bombed Tripoli a number of times in association with planes thought to be from the UAE and supported by Egypt. The recent attack by Haftar damaged the runway but repairs were expected to be finished later the same day. A spokesperson for the airport, Abdusalam Buamoud reported:"Fighting jets conducted air strikes on Matiga airport early today which damaged the runway." No one was hurt by the bombing. However, the air strike did delay the arrival of the delegation from Tripoli to the peace talks in Rabat Morocco. Mohamed El Hejazi, a spokesman of forces allied to Thinni responsible for the attack claimed that the strike was part of a war against terrorism a war that would continue until Libya has been freed of terrorism. Tobruk government planes also bombed Tripoli before the talks first began in Morocco. Haftar promised that he would do no bombing for three days during the talks. During one period in late February, the Tobruk government withdrew from the talks.
After peace talks in early February, both sides agreed to a cease fire. However Haftar insisted that the battle against terrorism would continue and carried on battling in Benghazi against opponents there. Groups associated with the Tripoli government also violated the cease fire. However, media attention lately has been focused on the actions of the Islamic State forces in Libya who carried out several attacks on oil fields, a luxury hotel in Tripoli, as well as beheading a number of Egyptian Coptic Christians. This was followed by Egyptian planes bombing IS positions in Derna and then a revenge suicide attack by the IS. Areas held by both sides have been attacked by the Islamic State. Recently forces from the Tripoli government have been clashing with the IS in Sirte which has been taken over the by the group. In recent clashes a top IS commander from Tunisia was killed.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned the recent bombing of Tripoli :This latest attack is risking sparking an escalation that threatens to undermine the ongoing political dialogue process at a time when the talks are at a decisive phase. The United Nations is gathering information about the attack, but its timing suggests it might be intended to undermine the national dialogue.An earlier attack by Tripoli forces on the Zintan airport held by Haftar allies was also condemned.The UN press release notes that the bombing delayed the arrival of the Tripoli delegates to the talks. The talks are to resume today March 20.
While it is in the interest of all Libyans to have a unity government, one of the aims of the talks, Libyans also need a cease fire that applies to all battles except against forces of the Islamic State. However, Haftar hopes to gain western support for what he calls a battle against terrorism, but as the bombing of Tripoli indicates he considers all those opposed to him as terrorists. Neither government recognizes the others' legitimacy and the two sides have not yet directly talked to the other but only with the UN officials. Even if there should be a political agreement, it is not clear that the armed forces associated with the two sides would implement any agreement. Haftar has shown his contempt for the whole dialogue process and aims to retake Tripoli by force if necessary:"..probably in agreement with his sweepingly anti-Islamist friends in Egypt, Haftar told The New Yorker that he would retake Tripoli from Libya Dawn militarily. Regarding dialogue with the GNC/LD, Haftar declared: “There will be no dialogue with terrorism,” asserting that Libya had to be “purified.”"


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