TUNIS (Reuters) - Shelling of Tripoli's Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital in recent days, hit fuel tanks and damaged passenger planes, the Transport Ministry said in a statement.
Mitiga is the last functioning airport in the Libyan capital, though civilian flights stopped in March because of repeated shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, part of the National Oil Corporation, said its jet fuel tanks at Mitiga caught fire after coming under attack and firemen were working to control the blaze.
The Transport Ministry, blaming eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar, said one of the damaged planes was preparing to fly to Spain to retrieve Libyans stranded in Europe by the coronavirus lockdown.
Video shared with Reuters by an airport worker showed plumes of black smoke billowing over the apron. Photographs showed shrapnel damage sprayed across the nose of a passenger plane.
Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), with frequent shelling of the capital.
According to the United Nations, four fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of the year were caused by LNA ground fighting.
Late on Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli was shelled, leading the European Union to condemn the incident, which it said was "attributal to Haftar's forces".
LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari denied the LNA had shelled the area. He has not yet commented on Saturday's shelling at Mitiga.
However, pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, says Turkey has established a military drone base at Mitiga, but the GNA denies this.
(Reporting by Hani Amara in Istanbul and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Christina Fincher)