TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s only commercial flight link to mainland Europe was severed on Thursday when the state carrier said its foreign partner had pulled out of the country after a deadly attack last week on a Tripoli hotel.
The carrier, Afriqiyah, had only just restarted the route to Duesseldorf in Germany last month. The Georgia-based company that provided the planes and crews had decided to quit Libya for security reasons, Afriqiyah said in a statement.
On Jan. 27, gunmen stormed the luxury Corinthia hotel in Tripoli and killed around nine people, including five foreigners. The victims included a French national working for another Libyan airline, Buraq, according to a Libyan official. Libyan websites said a crew of three were killed.
Buraq announced the next day that it had suspended all flights for two days. It has not yet resumed regular operations, but plans a flight to Istanbul on Friday to pick up stranded passengers.
Increasingly isolated because of violence and turmoil in a country with two rival governments, Libyan airlines are subject to a flight ban by the European Union which they can only circumvent by contracting firms operating planes registered in the EU.
Foreign airlines stopped flying to Libya last July when a faction called Libya Dawn attacked a rival group controlling Tripoli’s main airport, taking control of the capital after a months of fighting. The airport and some 20 planes were damaged during the fighting, officials have said.
Turkish Airlines briefly returned last year to fly to Misrata, east of Tripoli. But it halted flights last month due to repeated attacks on the airport, part of a struggle between the rival factions that have fought for power since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Operating a depleted fleet, Libyan carriers struggle to meet demand for tickets. Connections are limited to Turkey and to Libya’s neighbors. Some, like Egypt, do not allow flights to Tripoli because it is outside the control of the internationally recognized government, now based in the east of the country.
The main eastern airport Benghazi has been closed since May due to fighting in the city.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Trevelyan