In an interview with the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera , the head of the country's National Transitional Council , Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said the airport was attacked and held forseveral hours because it is "a strategic facility,"vowing it would not fall out of government control again. "The attack on the airport is dangerous, but we dealt with itas a government, military and revolutionaries withintelligence," he said. He declined to explain how the airport was overrun with such easeMonday afternoon, saying only that "we have to be peaceful anddiplomatic" about how to handle the country's variousproblems. The militiamen from the city of Tarhouna had stormed the airport,forcing airport authorities to divert flights. The assailantsoccupied the airport runway and flights were diverted to Metiga airbase in the city's center, Mohammed el-Gharyani of Tripoli SecurityCommittee said. |
Tunis Air announced Monday that it had canceled two flights toTripoli in response to the violence at the airport and was waitingto see how the situation evolved, the company said in a statement. Abdul-Jalil and el-Ghayrani both said the militiamen were angryover arrest of their commander, Abu Oleija al-Habishi, on Sunday. Tarhouna in central Libya was widely seen as a favorite of deposedruler Moammar Gadhafi . Its dominant tribe, also called Tarhouna, held many positions inthe Libyan military under Gadhafi. The city's residents are viewedwith suspicion by former rebels.
Tribal rivalries have swept Libya since Gadhafi was overthrown lastyear. Much of the fighting has pitted militias that fought Gadhafiagainst those who remained loyal to his regime. The Tarhouna group has been engaged in sporadic clashes with othermilitias from cities like Misrata and Tripoli. Al-Habishi was arrested in Tripoli, according toel-Gharyani, but circumstances of his arrest were not immediatelyclear. The attack on the airport came just two weeks before the date ofthe country's first general elections since 1969, when Gadhafi tookover power in a military coup.
On June 19, Libyans are scheduled toelect 200-member assembly to oversee writing a new constitution andform a government. Election commission and government officials have recently givencontradictory statements about the possibility that elections mightbe delayed, given the fragile security situation in Tripoli andmany other cities. Also, there have been calls to boycott the election in the easternpart of the country, where the uprising against Gadhafi started.Many easterners are demanding more representation in the assembly.
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