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25 Aug, 2014 07:52

War planes bombard Libyan capital as Islamists seize control of Tripoli and airport (PHOTOS)

War planes have bombarded Tripoli, while the city’s main airport was severely damaged by fire. This came a day after it was captured by rebel fighters, the Fajr Libya (Dawn of Libya) coalition, who also says it has control of the Libyan capital.

The rival sides accused one another of setting the airport ablaze. The airport’s main building was completely burnt down, and all planes that were parked in front of the terminal were damaged, along with houses and office buildings on the road leading up to the airport, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.

Libya’s capital was also bombed by unidentified war planes, according to residents. Witnesses heard jets flying over, followed by explosions. Diplomats, foreign nationals and thousands of Libyans have fled the capital.

#Tripoli airport terminal building after Misrata militias set it ablaze. Burnt to the ground. #Libya#destructionpic.twitter.com/ko5Ta2HHqx

— Ahmed Sanalla (@ASanalla) August 24, 2014

A field commander from the Dawn of Libya militia said on Sunday his forces were in control of Tripoli and adjacent cities, pushing back the rival Zintan forces some 90 kilometers south of the capital, AP reports.

On Saturday, the Dawn of Libya coalition, which consists of fighters mostly from the coastal town of Misrata, said they had captured the airport from the nationalist Zintan fighters, west of Tripoli, who have controlled transport links since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

A damaged aircraft is pictured after shelling at Tripoli International Airport August 24, 2014 (Reuters / Aimen Elsahli)

Zintan and Misrata fighters started out as allies against Gaddafi, but following the overthrow they began to fight each other for control of Tripoli, with the weak government unable to put a stop to the violence.

Earlier on Saturday, men from the Fajr Libya coalition said they had taken a bridge and a military base nearby and were advancing on the airport.

It is not the first time the airport has been targeted by militias. In July, there was a huge fire at an oil depot near the airport, which burnt out of control for days.

reports of wide scale looting & burning of property that belong to members of Zintan brigades & officials N #Tripolipic.twitter.com/g0qzcq9Wry

— Ahmed Sanalla (@ASanalla) August 24, 2014

A number of Libya’s neighbors are to meet in Cairo on Monday to discuss the worsening situation in the country. Egypt is wary not just of a humanitarian crisis on its doorstep, but the country also believes that an unstable Libya could become a haven for arms trafficking and militants. Egypt has been facing its own battle against Islamic militants, who have launched hundreds of attacks on security forces over the last few years, the Guardian reports.

Meanwhile also on Monday, one of the country’s last remaining functioning airports came under attack. The Labraq airport near the city of Benghazi has been a vital transport link for the country, after flights from Egypt and Tunisia to Tripoli were suspended. It is not known who carried out the attack and Grad rocket launchers were used. However, the airports director Abu Bakr al-Abidi said there had been no major damage.

The latest attacks mark the worst escalation of violence since the ouster of Gaddafi.

Three years after the US and its NATO allies used air power to help the militants achieve victory over former leader Gaddafi, the country has descended into a failed state without cohesive government and rival militias fighting for power.

A general view is seen of the entrance of Tripoli international airport August 24, 2014 (Reuters / Aimen Elsahli)

Several hundred people are believed to have died in July and August in the restive nation in unrest that has been ongoing since the fall of Gaddafi.

The situation began to spiral out of control, when the Fajr Libya coalition launched an offensive on Tripoli’s airport last month to force it out of Zintan militia control.

Earlier this month, Libya’s newly elected parliament asked the United Nations to intervene to help to end the violence. "The international community must intervene immediately to ensure that civilians are protected," MP Abu Bakr Biira stated. Calls for outside help have come from many factions in Libya.

The UN has called for the warring parties to hold peace talks, but there is little evidence of any let up in the bloodshed, which only seems to be intensifying.

Libya faces the prospect of having two parliaments competing against each other. The Dawn of Libya wants the old General National Congress to be reinstated, which was set up following the fall of Gaddafi.

This would be in competition with the parliament, which was elected on June 25. The parliament, currently in the eastern city of Tobruk, has declared the Dawn of Libya forces to be terrorists.