Libyan army battles militias near Tripoli as bombs strike city's only airport
In this Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 photo, Libyan soldiers take a break from fighting with militants on the frontline in Al Ajaylat, 120 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya. Army forces in Libya have been fighting Islamic and tribal militias since last September. (AP/Mohamed Ben Khalifa)
TRIPOLI, Libya -- Army troops battled militias Saturday outside the capital, Tripoli, security officials from both sides of the Libyan conflict said. The Libyan army also said it carried out airstrikes on multiple targets near the city, including its only functioning airport.
The fierce battles for the capital city on the Mediterranean coast resulted in both sides claiming control of Aziziya city, south of Tripoli. Army troops and fighters loyal to a militia coalition known as Libya Dawn continued to clash south and west of the capital.
"The Libyan Army wants to liberate the capital from militias and gangs," army spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said.
Details about the battles and casualty figures were not available and it was not immediately possible to authenticate the conflicting claims.
Rival governments in Libya are grappling for power as the United Nations holds talks to try to end the violence. The internationally-recognized elected government was driven out of Tripoli last year and has been relegated to the eastern city of Tobruk. A bloc of Islamist parties, backed by militias, set up its own government in Tripoli.
Army airstrikes on Saturday targeted Matiga base -- Tripoli's only functioning airport -- focusing on gunmen and munitions warehouses, al-Mesmari said. Warplanes also struck two other encampments used by forces loyal to the Islamist Tripoli government.
An official from the Tripoli government, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said Matiga's anti-aircraft defences prevented damage to the base.
On Saturday, U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon condemned the fighting.
"This is not only military activity which is undermining the situation in Libya and preventing the unity of the Libyans in fighting terrorism, it's also an operation that we condemn in the strongest terms because it's undermining the dialogue in the decisive moment," he told reporters.
Talks have dragged on for months with little results as fighting heated up in Libya. Last week, the delegation from the eastern city of Tobruk -- where the country's internationally-recognized parliament is based -- refused to join the negotiations.
Kennedy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco contributed to this report.