Egyptian authorities arrested 290 nationals on Wednesday for trying to illegally return home from Libya, apparently fleeing mounting unrest in the capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, state news agency MENA said.
The latest spate of violence, the deadliest since the 2011 fall of longtime autocrat Mummar Gaddafi, has prompted Western governments, including the United States, France and Canada, to pull their diplomats out of Libya and evacuate their nationals.
Nearly 100 people have been killed in weeks-long fighting between rival Libyan militias over control of Tripoli's airport. Violence in Benghazi that started earlier this week, however, and which included on Wednesday the seizing of a key military base by Islamist fighters, has claimed a similar number of lives.
The returnees, who crossed through Egypt's western frontier with Libya into the border city of Salloum, did not possess the required documents or passports, Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website reported. They were also accused of being present in a military zone off-limits to civilians and were to be investigated by military prosecutors.
Authorities have grown wary over the situation in Libya. Citing an illicit flow of weapons and militants infiltrating the 1,115-km Libyan-Egyptian border, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and other officials have warned that the North African state was becoming a major security threat.
Nearly 2,000 of the estimated 330,000 to 1.5 million Egyptians working in Libya returned home Wednesday through the Salloum border crossing, Al-Ahram said.
Egypt, which has renewed warnings against travel to the North African nation, sent an airplane to Tunisia on Wednesday to repatriate hundreds of Egyptian citizens taking asylum there. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had multiplied its mission staff along the borders between Tunisia and Libya to help its nationals who have sought sanctuary there.
Around 5,000 to 6,000 Egyptians have fled Libya into neighbouring Tunisia in recent days, according to Tunisian Foreign Minister Monji Hamdi.