Deadly battles erupt in Tripoli, raising fears of wider war in Libya

  • The worst fighting in Tripoli for two years
  • Fears of wider conflict
  • Political confrontation between two rival governments

TRIPOLI, Aug 27 (Reuters) – Rival factions battled in the Libyan capital on Saturday in the worst fighting in two years. A witness said forces allied to a parliament-backed administration moved to the city in an attempt to seize power.

The Tripoli government’s health ministry gave a preliminary death toll of 12, including 87 wounded, but did not specify how many civilians or combatants.

Sustained fighting in the city for control of the government would likely plunge Libya back into all-out war after two years of relative peace that led to an aborted political process to hold national elections.

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A months-long power stalemate in Libya has pitted the Tripoli-based National Unity Government (GNU) under Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah against a rival administration under Fathi Bashagha that is backed by the east-based parliament.

Clashes erupted overnight as one of Tripoli’s main groups attacked a base held by another, witnesses said, resulting in hours of gunfire and explosions.

Fighting intensified later Saturday morning, with small arms fire, heavy machine guns and mortars deployed in various central areas. Columns of black smoke rose across the Tripoli skyline and gunfire and explosions echoed through the air.

Intense clashes then began in Janzour, on the coastal road west of Tripoli and a possible access point for some forces aligned with Bashagha, people working in the area said.

An eyewitness said a convoy of more than 300 Bashagha-affiliated vehicles set off from Zlitan, about 150 km (90 miles) east of Tripoli along the coastal road. Bashagha has been based for weeks in Misrata, near Zlitan.

South of Tripoli, a video circulating on social media, which Reuters could not authenticate, claimed to show another Bashagha-aligned commander’s forces entering the Abu Salim district. Witnesses near Abu Salim said there was heavy shooting in the area.

The GNU Health Ministry said several hospitals and health centers were hit in the fighting.

The United Nations mission in Libya called for an immediate end to the fighting and expressed concern about shelling in civilian neighborhoods.

STRUGGLE

“It’s horrible. My family and I couldn’t sleep because of the clashes. The noise was too loud and too scary,” said Abdulmenam Salem, a resident of central Tripoli. “We stayed awake in case we had to leave quickly. It’s a terrible feeling.”

Large armed factions supporting each side in Libya’s political conflict have repeatedly mobilized around Tripoli in recent weeks, with convoys of military vehicles moving through the city and threatening to use force to achieve their goals.

Images and videos shared online from the city center, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed military vehicles speeding through the streets, fighters firing and local residents trying to put out lights. fires.

Ali, a 23-year-old student who declined to give his surname, said he fled his apartment with his family overnight after bullets hit their building. “We couldn’t stay and survive anymore,” he added.

DEAD END

Libya has seen little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and it split in 2014 between rival eastern and western factions, dragging down regional powers. Libyan oil production, the main reward for the warring groups, was interrupted several times during the years of chaos.

An offensive in 2019 by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, backed by the eastern-based parliament, collapsed in 2020, leading to a ceasefire and a UN-backed peace process.

The truce included setting up Dbeibah’s GNU to govern all of Libya and oversee national elections that were scheduled for last December but were scrapped due to disputes over the vote.

The parliament declared that Dbeibah’s term had expired and he appointed Bashagha to take over. Dbeibah said parliament had no right to replace him and that he would only step down after an election.

Bashagha attempted to enter Tripoli in May, which resulted in a shootout and his departure from the city.

Since then, however, a series of agreements have resulted in realignments of some armed factions within the main coalitions clashing around Tripoli.

Haftar remains closely allied with the east-based parliament and after his 2019-20 offensive some groups in Tripoli remain deeply opposed to any coalition in which he plays a role.

A GNU statement said the latest clashes in Tripoli were sparked by Bashagha-aligned fighters firing on a convoy in the capital while other pro-Bashagha units massed outside the city. He accused Bashagha of pulling out of the talks to resolve the crisis.

Bashagha’s administration said in a statement that it never rejected the talks and that its own overtures were rejected by Dbeibah. He did not directly respond to the claim that he was linked to the clashes.

Both Dbeibah and Bashagha attempted to woo international opinion, vowing to keep the peace and accusing each other of using violence in the pursuit of power.

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Reporting by Ahmed Elumami Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfali and Hani Amara Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Pravin Char and Frances Kerry

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