War-scarred Libya airport reopens after three-month closure

Tripoli (AFP) –


Flights resumed on Thursday at the Libyan capital Tripoli's sole functioning airport, after a more than three-month suspension due to repeated rocket attacks, an official said.

"We have reestablished flights at the Mitiga International Airport," airport director Khaled al-Tabib told AFP.

Two flights from Libyan carriers Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines are scheduled to operate to Istanbul and Tunis respectively, Tabib said, adding that "all flights will be restored gradually".

Other Libyan airlines, including Buraq and Libyan Wings, have announced they will resume flights in the coming days.

Mitiga has been hit by several air strikes and rocket attacks since the launch of an offensive in April by forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar to take the capital from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar's forces, which accuse the GNA of using Mitiga for military purposes, say they are targeting "Turkish drones" being launched from the airport to attack their troops in southern Tripoli.

The GNA has denied the accusations.

After fresh rocket fire on the airport on September 1 that left four people wounded, Mitiga was closed and flights transferred to Misrata, 200 kilometres (60 miles) to the east.

The reopening of the airport is a boon for travellers to the Libyan capital, where more than a third of the country's six-million strong population lives.

The UN mission in Libya called for the "immediate cessation of attacks against this vital facility and all civilian infrastructure and properties" that "may constitute war crimes" in a statement after the September 1 attack.

Mitiga had been expected to open in October, but maintenance work on the runway -- damaged by the attacks -- and expansion of buildings too cramped to accommodate a large number of passengers have slowed the resumption of flights, according to Tabib.

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.

Only Libyan airlines -- all banned from European airspace -- operate regular flights from Mitiga, mainly to Tunis and Istanbul.