Libyan rival militias clash near Tripoli airport

Smoke rises above Tripoli (13 July 2014) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There were reports of heavy explosions near the airport in Tripoli

At least seven people have been killed and 30 hurt in clashes between rival militias at Libya's airport near the capital, Tripoli, officials say.

Rebels from the Zintan region who control the international airport have been attacked by a rival group trying to take over the area.

Flights have been suspended amid reports of heavy shelling and gunfire.

Libyan leaders have struggled to bring stability to the country since Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power in 2011.

Analysis: Rana Jawad, BBC News, Tripoli

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A multitude of armed groups has emerged in Libya since the end of the civil war in 2011

Although some of the rival militias who attacked airport road are known as Islamists - this is not a clear-cut battle of ideologies. At the heart of this fighting is a turf war between militias that has been brewing in the capital for a long time.

We periodically see clashes like this on a smaller scale - the difference today is some have formed alliances with either side and in the years gone by, they've grown more powerful and hungrier for power.

Tripoli is divided along district lines with local militias controlling their areas and others from outside the capital who at different times were on various government payrolls. But there has long been a belief that those who control key instillations are the ones who yield the most power over the capital.

There was a reported meeting between the rival militias overnight to calm recent tensions. They allegedly agreed that there would not be clashes in Tripoli. This is clearly far from what came next.

Zintan fighters seized control of the airport and surrounding areas, 30km (18 miles) south of Tripoli, shortly after Col Gaddafi's 42-year-rule came to an end.

It is not clear who the attacking rebels are, but Libyan media report they call themselves the Stability and Security Force.

Armed vehicles massed in the area overnight before fighting broke out at dawn, witnesses told CNN.

The violence has prompted airport authorities to suspend flights for three days, starting Sunday.

The BBC's Rana Jawad, in Tripoli, says there have recently been threats from various militias wanting to seize the airport area.

The situation in Libya remains unstable as a complex web of armed groups, which emerged from the aftermath of the civil war, are fighting for power.

Analysts say the rebels are seen by Libyans as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, in the absence of an effective army, they provide security across much of the country and protect the borders.

On the other, they have been accused of human rights abuses, unlawful detention and of taking the law into their own hands.

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