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Haftar forces block UN flights in and out of Libya amid Tripoli shelling

Organisation says move by eastern commander is hampering its humanitarian and mediation efforts
Haftar has been trying since last April to capture the capital Tripoli from the internationally recognised government (AFP)

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar have blocked flights carrying United Nations staff to and from Libya, hampering humanitarian and mediation efforts, the UN mission said on Wednesday.

Haftar's eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) has on several occasions in recent weeks refused to grant permission for the regular flights to land, the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said in a statement.

"We are not receiving security assurances from the LNA for the landing of aircraft in western Libya and it's been going on for at least three weeks," UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said, adding that this was affecting the mission's flights and humanitarian ones.

Alam said that UNSMIL has about 170 staff, spread between Libya and neighbouring Tunisia.

A humanitarian source said that Haftar was imposing a "no-fly zone" for Tripoli and there were concerns that UN flights could be a possible target.

The LNA has been trying since last April to capture the capital Tripoli from the internationally recognised government but has failed to breach the city's defences.

Difficult relations

Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Sudanese and Chadian fighters and, most recently, Russian mercenaries. France has also given some support.

That has prompted Turkey to come to the aid of Tripoli Premier Fayez al-Serraj by sending troops to Tripoli. 

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Up to 2,000 fighters from Syria's civil war have also joined the battle to defend the capital, a UN official said last month.

UN envoy Ghassan Salame has been mediating between Haftar and the Tripoli government, but relations have been difficult as UNSMIL has condemned air strikes blamed on the LNA, though mostly without mentioning the force by name. 

A second rounds of talks are scheduled between the two rival military factions in Geneva next week.

Eastern officials have accused Salame of being biased against them, charges denied by the UN.

Tripoli shelled

UNSMIL has a large base in Tripoli and also provides humanitarian relief for migrants and people displaced by the conflict. 

Artillery shells on Tuesday night hit the capital, including the central Nouflin and Souq al-Jumaa districts, which had been mostly spared so far from the conflict, a Reuters reporter said.

Parts of the capital were plunged in darkness as power failed. The electricity grid has been often hit.

There was no immediate word on casualties from authorities and no more details available. 

The war has displaced some 150,000 people, according to the UN.