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

  • Worst fighting in Tripoli in two years
  • Fear of widespread conflict
  • A political conflict between two rival governments

TRIPOLI, Aug 27 (Reuters) – The worst fighting between rival factions in the Libyan capital in two years took place on Saturday as a witness said forces aligned with the parliament-backed administration moved into the city to try to seize power.

The Tripoli government’s health ministry put the initial death toll at 12 and 87 wounded, but did not say how many were civilians or combatants.

Libya is likely to plunge back into full-blown war after two years of comparative peace, with continued fighting in the city for control of the government leading to a fruitless political process aimed at holding national elections.

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A month-long standoff for power in Libya has pitted the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) against a rival administration led by Fathi Bashagha, backed by the eastern-based parliament led by Abdulhamid al-Dabibah.

Clashes erupted overnight after one of Tripoli’s main factions attacked a base held by the other, witnesses said, leading to hours of gunfire and explosions.

Fighting intensified on Saturday morning with small-arms fire, heavy machine gun and mortar deployment in various central areas. Black smoke billowed into the skies over Tripoli, and gunfire and explosions echoed through the air.

Heavy fighting erupted later in Janjur, on the coast road west of Tripoli and a possible entry point for some forces aligned with Bashagha, people working in the area said.

Meanwhile, an eyewitness said a convoy of more than 300 vehicles attached to Bashagha left Zlitan, about 150 km (90 miles) east of Tripoli, along the coastal road. Bashagha has been in Misrata near Zlitan for weeks.

South of Tripoli, a video circulating on social media, which Reuters could not verify, purported to show the forces of a Bashagha-aligned commander entering the Abu Salim district. Witnesses near Abu Salim said there was heavy firing in the area.

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

The United Nations Libya Mission called for an immediate end to the fighting and expressed concern over shelling in civilian districts.

fights

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

Major armed groups supporting each side in Libya’s political dispute have repeatedly converged around Tripoli in recent weeks, with convoys of military vehicles circling the city and threats of force to achieve their goals.

Pictures and videos shared online of 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 the fire.

Ali, a 23-year-old student who declined to give his last name, said he fled the apartment with his family at night after bullets hit their building. “We could no longer stay and live,” he added.

STALEMATE

Libya has been at peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, and it split into rival eastern and western factions in 2014 and was drawn into regional powers. Libyan oil production, a key boon for the warring factions, has been repeatedly shut down during the years of chaos.

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

The cease-fire included the establishment of Dbbah’s GNU to govern the whole of Libya and oversee national elections held last December but was abandoned due to disputes over voting.

Parliament said Dbeba’s mandate had expired and appointed Bashagha. Dbeba said parliament had no right to replace him and he would step down only after the elections.

Bashagha attempted to enter Tripoli in May, leading to firefights and his departure from the city.

Since then, however, a series of deals has reorganized some of the armed groups into the main alliances around Tripoli.

Haftar maintains close ties to the eastern parliament, and after his 2019-20 offensive, some Tripoli factions strongly oppose any coalition in which he plays a role.

A GNU statement said the latest clashes in Tripoli were started by Bashagha fighters who fired on a convoy in the capital while other pro-Bashagha units were massed outside the city. In it, Bashagha accused him of walking out of the discussion to resolve the crisis.

Bashagha’s administration said in a statement that it had never ruled out talks and that his own overtures had been rejected by Dabeba. It did not directly respond to assertions that it was linked to the clashes.

Both Dabeba and Bashagha have sought to court international opinion, vowing to maintain peace and accusing each other of using violence to seize power.

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Reporting by Ahmed Elumami Additional reporting by Ayman Al-Warfali and Hani Amara Editing by Angus McDowell Editing by Praveen Char and Frances Carey

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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