Rebel forces fight­ing for con­trol of air­port

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - – Wash­ing­ton Post

TRIPOLI – A rene­gade mili­tia seek­ing to storm its way into Libya’s cap­i­tal bat­tled for con­trol of the in­ter­na­tional air­port Satur­day in a show­down that threat­ened to spill into bloody ur­ban com­bat in the streets.

Fight­ers loyal to war­lord Khal­ifa Hifter said they had over­run the air­port. But forces for Libya’s U.N.-backed gov­ern­ment mounted a coun­ter­at­tack, and it re­mained un­clear which side held the air­field.

The air­port has been closed since it suf­fered wide­spread dam­age dur­ing bat­tles be­tween ri­val groups in 2014. But it would be a sym­bolic blow to the gov­ern­ment if the site fell to Hifter, who could use it as a key stag­ing ground for fur­ther ad­vances.

Hifter’s mili­tia is aligned with a sep­a­rate ad­min­is­tra­tion based in east­ern Libya. The coun­try, rich in oil and gas re­serves, has been split into ri­val re­gions for years as the United Na­tions and oth­ers try to ham­mer out a peace deal.

Hifter’s offensive could usher in the most sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence since the top­pling of Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi in 2011.

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