BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar shot down a Tripoli government warplane south of the Libyan capital on Tuesday, witnesses and the Libyan National Army (LNA) said.
The LNA media unit released pictures of what it said was the pilot with blood on his face receiving medical treatment while seated on a chair. Another picture showed an LNA commander, Abdulsalam al-Hassi, standing behind him.
A spokesman for forces aligned with the internationally recognised government which is based in Tripoli had no immediate comment on the incident.
The eastern-based LNA, led by Haftar, began an offensive against Tripoli in early April but its advance has been blocked by forces loyal to Tripoli on the city’s southern outskirts.
Residents of Gharyan, about 80 km (50 miles) south of Tripoli, said that when the plane was heard overhead, anti-aircraft fire opened up. There was an explosion as it was hit.
“The jet was shot down in Al-Hira town (10 km from Gharyan) and I saw LNA troops capturing the pilot,” a Gharyan resident told Reuters.
The escalation is a setback for efforts by the United Nations and Western states to end the chaos and political division in Libya eight years after a NATO-backed uprising that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Werfalli; Writing by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Angus MacSwan)