A Turkish drone has been downed in Tripoli and two Turkish nationals arrested by forces loyal to Libyan renegade General Khalifa Haftar after the two sides exchanged severe warnings.
The aircraft was targeted by Haftar’s eastern Libyan air force at Tripoli’s Mitiga military airbase, Haftar’s war information division said on Facebook on Sunday.
Air traffic was halted on Sunday at the Libyan capital’s only functioning civilian airport, also at Mitiga, after what was described as an air strike.
Authorities in Eastern Libya also announced in a statement that they have arrested two Turkish nationals over what they called Ankara’s support for “militias” in Libya.
This comes as Ankara says “six” Turkish nationals are being held in Libya by Haftar’s forces. Turkey has warned that there would be consequences if they are not immediately released.
“The detention of six of our citizens by illegal militia forces linked to Haftar is an act of thuggery and piracy. We expect our citizens to be immediately released,” Turkey foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Should this not happen, Haftar elements will become legitimate targets,” it added.
But the ministry did not give any details on where the Turks were being held or when they had been taken by the forces.
Ankara had earlier threatened to retaliate against any attack by Haftar’s loyalists on its interests in the North African country.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had warned of a very heavy price for such actions.
Haftar accuses Ankara of backing his rivals during the ongoing conflict in Libya. He has ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) to target Turkish ships and companies, ban Turkish flights, and arrest Turkish nationals in Libya.
Turkey supports Libya’s internationally-recognized government in Tripoli, which has been under assault by Haftar’s forces trying to seize the capital for three months.
Turkey has supplied drones and trucks to the forces allied to UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, while the LNA has received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, according to diplomats.
Libyan government forces recently dealt a major blow to the LNA by retaking the strategic town of Gharyan, a supply line for Haftar’s forces on the Tripoli front.
Haftar’s offensive has upended UN-led plans to stabilize Libya after years of conflict that have left the oil-rich nation divided and caused living standards to plummet.
Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention. His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.