Rockets hit Libya airport as UN, French officials visit to talk peace

In this file photo, the interior of Mitiga airport is seen empty following clashes that took place in Tripoli in January 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Rockets hit Libya airport as UN, French officials visit to talk peace

  • One rocket hit an Airbus 320 and others struck the arrivals hall at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
  • A security group that controls the airport alligned to Libya’s government said the rockets were fired by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir “the Cow.”

Tripoli: Rockets hit Libya’s main airport and damaged a plane as it was waiting to take off early on Thursday, a security force said, the same day as the United Nations envoy and France’s ambassador were visiting the capital to discuss a peace plan.
One rocket hit an Airbus 320 and others struck the arrivals hall at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport at around 2 a.m. (midnight GMT), but no one was injured, a spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) said.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame and French ambassador Brigitte Curmi arrived at the same airport — the only one operating in the city. Their offices did not immediately release a statement on the attack or say when they landed.
Tripoli has been controlled by a patchwork of armed groups since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Qaddafi and splintered the country.
There have been rival governments in Tripoli and the east since 2014, when most diplomatic missions evacuated to neighboring Tunisia.
Armed groups fighting for territory and power have regularly attacked Tripoli’s transport hubs — undermining the government’s efforts to persuade diplomatic missions to return to the capital.
Airlines have also struggled to maintain services and keep the oil-producing country connected to the outside world as attacks damage their planes.
Rada, a security group that controls the airport alligned to Libya’s internationally recognized government, said the rockets were fired by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir “the Cow,” a group it has clashed with before.
France’s Curmi met representatives of that govenrment in Tripoli at around 9 a.m., and the UN’s Salame held his meeting in the early afternoon.
When asked whether elections would be held this year, Salame said after meeting Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala: “Sure. We promised this the UN Security Council.” He did not elaborate.
The United Nations launched a new round of talks in September in Tunis between the rival factions to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018 but divisions have prevented reaching an accord.
Mitiga is a military air base near the center of Tripoli that began hosting civilian flights after the international airport was put out of service in 2014.


Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

Updated 5 min 34 sec ago
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Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

MOSUL: Atop an enormous mound of rubble under blistering sun in Iraq’s second city Mosul, fire crews and police chip away at a grim but vital task.
Some 10 months after dislodging the Daesh group, they are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City.
“Over three days, 763 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and buried,” Lt. Col. Rabie Ibrahim says.
Despite the overpowering stench, the men work relentlessly, braving unexploded munitions in an area devastated by the nine-month battle.
“The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city, Ibrahim says.
Civilians’ bodies that can be identified are handed to their families, while the remains of Daesh combatants are buried in a mass grave on the western outskirts of Mosul.
Some of the putrefied corpses are sent to Nineveh province’s health services, Ibrahim adds.
The workers, their faces covered with masks or scarves, move with great caution.
The bodies of jihadists are sometimes still clad in suicide belts.
Grenades, homemade bombs and other crude contraptions left by Daesh fighters during their retreat to Syria pose a constant threat.
The improvised boobytraps are hidden under multiple layers and obstacles — the rubble of collapsed homes, disemboweled furniture and uprooted trees, in some places subsiding into the waters of the Tigris that meander murkily below.
Where a maze of cobbled streets was once lined with homes and market stalls, there is now a formless mess populated by stray animals, insects and disease.
The destruction is so great that some residents cannot pinpoint the remnants of their homes or even their street as they try to direct salvage workers to the remains of loved ones.
The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery, says General Hossam Khalil, who leads Nineveh province’s civil defense force.
His men therefore have to rely on smaller vehicles, but Mosul “only has a few,” he says.
There is a pressure to work as quickly as conditions will allow: residents are exhausted by three years of Daesh rule, nine months of brutal urban combat and now the slow pace of reconstruction.
“But it’s impossible, with this stench, this pollution and the epidemics they can cause,” says Othmane Saad, an unemployed 40-year-old whose home in the old city is entirely destroyed.
Another resident, 33-year-old Abu Adel, wants the authorities “to clear all the corpses as quickly as possible” and to “compensate residents so they can rebuild, then establish public services.”
But the task is titanic.
Since Mosul was retaken in July, “2,838 bodies, including 600 Daesh members, have been retrieved from the rubble,” governor Naufel Sultane says.
Even after the corpses are taken away and buried, they leave harmful bacteria which the Tigris can carry far beyond the old city.
The authorities insist drinking water stations are unaffected and that they pump water from the Tigris’ central depths, avoiding the banks and other shallows.
But gastroenterologist Ahmed Ibrahim advises caution.
“You must boil water before drinking it and don’t use river water, either for bathing or washing,” he says.
Birds and fish “can carry typhus, bilharzia and gastroenteritis,” he adds.