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One of Libya’s rival prime ministers returns to Tripoli on the first commercial flight from Italy in years

CAIRO (AP) — One of Libya’s rival prime ministers returned to the capital Tripoli from Italy on Monday on a commercial jet charter flight, the first direct flight between the two countries in a decade.

Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah, who heads the government in Tripoli, boarded the plane from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Flight AZ894 is operated by Italy’s national airline, ITA Airways.

“From Rome to Tripoli via Italian airways, ITA,” Dbeibah wrote on Twitter, adding a photo of the flight ticket. The flight landed at Mitiga Airport, the only functioning airport in the Libyan capital.

Dbeibah said Monday Libyans could book direct flights to Italy in September after the Italian government agreed earlier this month to lift a 10-year ban on civil aviation in the North African nation.

He said on Sunday that flights between Libya and Italy would pave the way for the opening of airspace with other countries. Dbeibah said his government would work to resume flights between Rome and the Libyan eastern city of Benghazi, his office said.

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Oil-rich Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In the ensuing disorder, the country split into rival governments in the east and west, each backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.

The government in the east is led by Prime Minister Ossama Hamad, who was appointed to the country’s House of Representatives after Libya failed to hold elections in December 2021. Hamad’s government is backed by powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter, whose forces control eastern and southern Libya.

Dbeibah is a close ally of the Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. He attended a summit in Rome aimed at curbing the flow of migrants to Europe.

Libya is the dominant transit country for migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to reach Europe.

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