Rocket fired at Libya airport, flights disrupted

Passengers wait for their flights at Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli on Saturday, after a rocket hit the airport which suspended flights. — AFP

TRIPOLI — Flights were temporarily suspended Saturday at the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport after it was hit by a rocket as two civilian flights were landing, airport authorities said.

"Flights are suspended until further notice due to rocket fire," the Mitiga airport said on its Facebook page.

After a pause of several hours flights resumed around midday, airport authorities announced in a later post.

Located east of Tripoli, Mitiga is a former military airbase that has been used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport suffered severe damage during fighting in 2014.

Authorities said a rocket hit just as two flights were landing — a Buraq Air flight from Istanbul and a Libyan Airlines flight inbound from Madinah in Saudi Arabia carrying over 200 passengers, including pilgrims returning from Makkah.

Mitiga has previously been targeted in fighting between the Tripoli-based UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces loyal to eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive on April 4 to conquer Tripoli.

The two sides have since been embroiled in a stalemate on the capital's southern outskirts and Haftar's forces have allegedly repeatedly targeted Mitiga.

The airport said on its website that Mitiga airport "was exposed to a missile, coinciding with the arrival of two flights." Nobody was hurt, a witness said.

"I was inside the terminal booking a flight...then I heard a massive explosion," the witness told Reuters by phone.

"There was big chaos and people were trying to escape. ..I saw a number of cars parked in front of terminal damaged."

The origin of Saturday's rocket fire was not confirmed but the GNA forces blamed Haftar's forces.

The blast damaged a sidewalk outside the airport terminal and left cars parked nearby riddled with shrapnel, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

The UN mission in Libya said it is concerned by the "growing frequency" of these attacks, which have come close to hitting civilian aircraft.

Since April, the fighting has killed at least 1,093 people and wounded 5,752, while some 120,000 others have been displaced, according to the World Health Organization.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. — Agencies