Libya’s new air link bridges a long divide

When the pilot called out “Welcome to Tripoli,” the passengers burst into excited applause.

A Libyan Air flight from Benghazi that landed in the capital Thursday was the first commercial aircraft to arrive in Tripoli since March. It restored a link between the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east and the capital, divided during months of civil war. By land, the two cities are still cut off by conflict around the city of Sirte, where loyalists to ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi seemed determined to make a last stand.

On the airplane, young boys wore caps emblazoned with the green, black and red flag embraced by the rebel government. Little girls giggled excitedly about seeing their grandmother and aunts in Tripoli.

“I couldn’t sleep for three days. It’s the first time we go to Tripoli without Gaddafi,” said Maya al-Madani, 24.

The airport bore scars from months of fighting. Rebel fighters guarded the gate, the electricity didn’t work, and Gaddafi posters had been ripped away.

With Gaddafi still at large, and many Libyans fearful that he might return, some found the moment disconcerting.

“I can’t believe it,” said Mona Jawashy, 42, Maya’s aunt. “Even now, I was afraid Gaddafi would shoot down the plane.”

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