February 17, 2015 / 5:23 PM / 3 years ago

Libya airport, airline says Egypt closes airspace

CAIRO (Reuters) - A Libyan commercial plane bound for Istanbul was forced to return to Tripoli on Tuesday after Egypt banned overflying its airspace, Tripoli airport and the Libyan airline said.

Egypt launched air strikes on Monday on suspected targets of Islamic State in Libya, a day after the group released a video showing the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Hisam Kamal, denied permission had been withheld, state newspaper al-Ahram said.

“No Libyan airline asked for an overfly permission,” he told the paper.

Libyan Airlines and Tripoli’s Matiga airport said on their websites the plane took off for Istanbul but returned after Egypt informed the carrier that it was not allowed to enter Egyptian airspace.

The website of Tobruk airport, in eastern Libya, said all flights between Egypt and Libya had stopped.

Such a shutdown would push Libya, battling to contain a violent power struggle, further into isolation as Turkey was one of last countries where Libyan airlines were flying to. Foreign carriers have left the oil producer.

Libyan airlines flying to Turkey need to cross Egyptian airspace to avoid Cyprus as the European Union has imposed an overfly ban for security reasons.

Morocco earlier said it had suspended all flights between Moroccan cities and Libya for security concerns.

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 the struggle between rival factions that have fought for power since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Omar Fahmy and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Alison Williams

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