By Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
Tripoli, 4 August 2013:
A Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Tripoli today was reported to have landed instead . . .[restrict]in Alexandria after an armed group forced air traffic control staff at Tripoli International Airport to deny it permission to land there.
“We tried to negotiate with the armed group but did not succeed,” an airport official said. The plane was then diverted to Egypt because of fears that there might be trouble awaiting it at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport or even at Misrata or Benghazi. There were, the source said, “a considerable number of Libyans on board”.
According to the source, the flight refuelled at Alexandria and then returned to Doha. It is not known if any passengers disembarked at Alexandria.
The incident comes a day after a group of men forced their way into the Qatar Airways office at the airport and ordered staff to leave. The group reportedly said that they intended to prevent Qatari passenger and cargo aircraft from landing in Libya, although they would not say why. According to sources at the airport, they also said that they intended to force the closure of the downtown Qatar Airways office in Tripoli Tower.
Yesterday’s incident was condemned by the Interior Ministry which said that the attackers represented “only themselves”. In a statement, it described it as a “shameful” act that would send the wrong message about Libya to the international community and foreign companies and so hinder economic development and reconstruction projects.
Two months ago, Qatar Airways suspended flights to and from Benghazi after militiamen forced non-Libyans arriving on a flight from Doha back onto the plane and prevented Libyans from boarding it for the return flight to the Qatari capital. According to a Benghazi Local Council member at the time, the militiamen accused Qatar of interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
There have been periodic protests in Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere as well as on social media sites alleging Qatari interference in Libya. These tend to surface at times of crisis. In May, there were anti-Qatar demonstrations in Tripoli, Benghazi and other towns after armed groups besieging the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice in Tripoli in support of the Political Isolation Law. At the time the demonstrators accused Qatar of involvement in the sieges and of backing Libyan Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar strongly denied that accusations and was backed by the Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, who said that there was no evidence of Qatari interference.
Qatar Airways, which has been flying between Tripoli and Doha since 2003, reintroduced scheduled services between Doha and Tripoli in February last year following the revolution. Initially, the route was served three-times a week, via Alexandria, but due to demand the service went daily last August. Flights became non-stop in June.
It is a popular route with Libyans many of whom like to transit through Doha to other destinations in the Gulf and further east. Qatar Airways also flies cargo to Europe from Tripoli. [/restrict]