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Libya militias locked in deadly battle for airport

TRIPOLI -- Islamist-led militiamen stepped up their assault Sunday on Libya's main airport, two days after the collapse of a truce with rival ex-rebels who control the facility, a security official said.

The renewed fighting, which killed at least five civilians, was condemned by the European Union, which urged restraint and dialogue.

A coalition of militias led by Islamist fighters launched an assault on Tripoli international airport, with clashes later spreading to the road leading to the capital.

“The airport was attacked this morning with mortar rounds, rockets and tank fire,” airport security official Al-Jilani al-Dahesh told AFP.

“It was the most intense bombardment so far,” since a week-old battle for control of the airport erupted on July 13.

Dahesh said the militia which controls the airport, based in Zintan, southwest of the capital, and seen by Islamists as the armed wing of liberals within the government, responded with heavy fire.

Islamist militias have been joined by other armed groups, including the powerful Misrata Brigades which played a key role in the 2011 U.N.-backed revolt that toppled and killed strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

The fighting has forced a halt to all flights and caused extensive damage to planes and airport infrastructure, with aviation officials saying Tripoli airport could stay closed for months.

Pictures posted on social media showed a Libyan Airlines plane on fire as plumes of smoke billowed over the airport.

The carrier said on its Facebook page that one of its aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ900, was destroyed.

By midday on Sunday, fighting had spread to other sites on the airport road that are controlled by the Zintan militia, an AFP correspondent said.

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