Rebel forces fighting for control of airport
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.