SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)-Unidentified warplanes flew over the Libyan capital Tripoli and explosions were heard early on Monday, residents said, in what could mark a sharp escalation of more than a month of street fighting between armed factions.
Several Libyan TV channels said planes targeted bases of militiamen from Misrata who have been battling brigades from the western Zintan region to gain control of Tripoli in the worst violence since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.
Tripoli residents said they heard several jets flying after midnight, followed by loud explosions. No more planes were heard but fighting between militias on the ground resumed in some parts of the city in the morning.
A Zintani source said fighters of his unit saw planes bombing a Misrata position, though Reuters reporters were not immediately able to access the area.
Fighting between brigades from Misrata and Zintan has raged through Tripoli for more than a month, forcing the United Nations, Western, and Arab countries to evacuate their embassies and citizens.
But clashes had been limited to ground action with artillery and rockets. None of the militias are believed to own warplanes, while the weak central government has only an outdated air force badly in need of repair.
Haftar’s spokesman declined to comment when Reuters asked whether his planes had attacked Tripoli targets. “We don’t have any comment at the moment,” Mohammed al-Hejazi said.
Government officials were not available and the mobile phone of cabinet spokesman Ahmed Lamine was switched off.
The weak government has no functioning national army and almost no control over Tripoli, with most officials working from Tobruk in Libya’s far-east where the new parliament has set up to escape the violence.
An Egyptian security source said air traffic between the two countries had been interrupted for six hours and that Libyan air controllers had cited security reasons.
Some Tripoli residents, tired of daily fighting disrupting power and food supplies, hope that NATO would intervene in Libya as it did in 2011 when the alliance sent jets to bomb Gaddafi forces in support of the uprising that toppled him.
Libyan news channels speculated that the country’s neighbors might be behind the action overnight.
A US official and an Egyptian security source, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said their countries had not been involved. A NATO official said: “There are no fighter jets under NATO command involved in operations over Libya.”
On Sunday, the UN Mission in Libya said it “deeply regrets that there was no response to the repeated international appeals and its own efforts for an immediate ceasefire.”
The new UN special envoy, Bernardino Leon, who is due to start his job on September 1, said he might travel to Tripoli as early as this week.