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Haftar forces rocket fire shuts last functioning airport in Libyan capital

Three pilgrims returning from Mecca, including a woman, are among four civilians wounded
Mitiga airport terminal in Tripoli, Libya, is empty after being targeted by air strike earlier this year (Reuters/file photo)

Rocket fire by forces loyal to eastern leader Khalifa Haftar against the Libyan capital Tripoli’s sole functioning airport wounded four civilians overnight and closed down the facility, the UN-recognised government said on Sunday.

The strikes coincided with the arrival at Mitiga airport of a Libyan plane carrying pilgrims back from Mecca in Saudi Arabia, AFP said.

Three pilgrims, including a woman, were among four civilians wounded, said Wedad Abu Niran, a spokesman for the health ministry of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Airport director Lotfi al-Tabib said Mitiga airport's runway was damaged and a Libyan Airlines plane was hit by shrapnel, putting it out of service. Flights have been suspended "until further notice", he said.

As of Monday, flights will be diverted to Misrata airport, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Tripoli, the airport said in a Facebook post.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said four projectiles hit the civilian parts of the airport, including the runway, resulting in damage to the plane, which was carrying dozens of pilgrims.

"These vicious attacks are designed to sow fear, create chaos and disrupt operations at the only working airport in the Libyan capital Tripoli," it said in a statement

Nearby Mitiga hospital received one small girl who had been wounded, a doctor there told Reuters.

Photos on social media showed a damaged passenger jet operated by Libyan Airlines. Some cars parked at the airport were also damaged, a Reuters witness said.

Operations moved

Four Libyan airlines moved their operations to Misrata airport until further notice, they said on their websites.

Mitiga airport has been targeted during fighting involving Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which launched an offensive in April for control of the capital and has been battling forces aligned with the GNA.

UNSMIL said the attack was the seventh incident of indiscriminate shelling on Mitiga since the end of July. It was documenting the incident to submit its findings to the International Criminal Court and UN Security Council, it said.

Haftar's forces say they are targeting "Turkish drones" they claim are being launched from the airport to conduct strikes on their troops in the south of Tripoli.

Since April, fighting between pro-GNA and pro-Haftar forces has killed at least 1,093 people and wounded 5,752, while about 120,000 others have been displaced, according to the World Health Organisation.