TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Booms of outgoing artillery shaking the ground, militia fighters from the remote Libyan mountain town of Zintan hunker down in the passenger terminal to defend Tripoli airport, the biggest prize in the capital.
Across the city a few kilometres away, a commander of a brigade from the port city of Misrata rallies his men to take the airport back.
Three years ago, Zintani and Misratan rebel brigades descended simultaneously on Tripoli from east and west to storm the palaces of Muammar Gaddafi. Now, fighters from the two towns are waging open war in the capital.
“This war is harder than the revolution,” said Mohammed, a fighter in a unit allied to the Zintanis, standing in the debris of the airport terminal, dark smoke billowing from a nearby blast. “They want to take the airport, and when you take the airport you take Tripoli.”
Across the city at his Tripoli base lined with tanks and trucks mounted with cannons, Hassan Shakka, a commander of Misrata’s Central Shield brigade, said his forces were “completing the revolution”.
“We are not fighting the Zintanis: we are fighting the remains of Gaddafi’s army,” he said. “There will be no ceasefire until they leave Tripoli.”
Two weeks of shelling have knocked Tripoli International Airport out of commission. A control centre is damaged, nearly 20 jets parked on the tarmac have been hit, burned or destroyed and the passenger terminal sports a gaping hole in its roof.
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