BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - The official Libyan government has banned Palestinians, Syrians and Sudanese from entry because their countries are undermining Libya’s security, the interior minister said.
The decision came as forces loyal to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni launched a new air strike on Misrata, a western city linked to a rival government which seized Tripoli in August with the help of an armed group called Libya Dawn.
Thinni, Libya’s internationally recognised premier, has been forced into an eastern rump state since he lost Tripoli but is trying to regain territory by launching air strikes on opposing forces. On Sunday, a warplane hit a Greek-run tanker off the eastern port of Derna, killing two crewmen.
Fighting was also reported near the eastern oil port of Es Sider, which Dawn has tried to take with an offensive that started last month. The terminal and the adjacent Ras Lanuf port have been closed since then.
“We’ve decided to ban nationals from Sudan, Syria and Palestine after the intelligence services and police established that some Arab countries are involved in undermining Libya’s security and sovereignty,” Thinni’s interior minister, Omar al-Sanki, told Reuters late on Monday.
With his rule limited to the east, Thinni would be able to enforce the ban only at Tobruk and Labraq airports and the land crossing with Egypt. The country’s main crossing to Tunisia and airports in Misrata and Tripoli-Mitiga are out of his control.
Thinni’s main military partner, former army general Khalifa Haftar, has accused Sudanese, Palestinians and Syrians of having joined Ansar al-Sharia and other Islamist groups which are battling pro-government forces in the eastern city of Benghazi.
In September, Thinni said Sudan had attempted to airlift weapons and ammunition to the new rulers in Tripoli. Khartoum denied this, saying the weapons were meant for a joint border force under a bilateral agreement.
The Tripoli government has accused Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, two countries worried about the spread of Islamism, of helping Haftar militarily. Haftar denies this but analysts have wondered how the outdated and tiny Libyan air force is able to fly daily sorties.
Libya’s conflict has drawn in former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but who are now fighting each other for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
The United Nations has tried to mediate but a new round of peace talks has been repeatedly delayed due to the fighting.
Saqer al-Joroushi, Haftar’s air force commander, said there would be daily air strikes on Misrata from now on. War planes attacked the city’s airport on Tuesday but caused no damage, said airport spokesman Suleiman al-Jehaimi.
On Monday, Turkish Airlines said it had stopped its Misrata flights for security reasons, the last foreign carrier to abandon Libya. It had already stopped flying to Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha.
Reporting by Libya staff; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Giles Elgood