Two dead in Libya's Tripoli amid worst fighting this year

Flights to the city's main airport have been suspended

Smoke rises above Tripoli, Libya, on Tuesday amid clashes between armed groups affiliated with the Government of National Unity. AFP
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Two people have been killed in clashes between Tripoli's most powerful armed factions in the worst violence to hit the Libyan capital this year, raising fears of a wider escalation, reports said.

Dark smoke hung over parts of the city early on Tuesday and the sound of heavy weapons rattled through the streets, a Reuters journalist in Tripoli said. Residents and local media reported fighting in several districts of the capital.

A hospital source told AFP two people had been killed in the clashes, along with at least 30 wounded. It had not been established whether if the dead were civilians or militants.

The clashes between the 444 Brigade and the Special Deterrence Force, which both backed the interim Government of National Unity during brief battles last year, shatter months of relative calm in Tripoli.

The clashes have left residents trapped in their homes unable to escape the violence, the country's health ministry said.

In a statement, the ministry called on the warring sides to allow ambulance and emergency teams to enter the affected areas – primarily in the south of the city – and for blood to be sent to nearby hospitals.

Hospitals in Tripoli later declared a state of emergency as they struggled to cope with the wounded, local media reported.

The UN Support Mission in Libya said it was following with concern “the security incidents and developments” that began on Monday. It called for an immediate end to the ongoing armed clashes.

"The Mission is also concerned about the possible impact of these developments on the ongoing efforts to cultivate a security environment that is conducive to advancing the political process, including preparations for national elections," it said.

Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising and in 2014 it split between warring eastern and western factions.

An assault by eastern forces on Tripoli, in the west, collapsed in 2020 leading to a ceasefire that has halted most major warfare. Turkey, which backed the Tripoli government, has maintained a military presence in Libya.

However, there has been little progress towards a lasting political solution to the conflict and on the ground armed factions that have gained official status and financing continue to wield power.

Last year factions backing a rival government declared by the eastern-based parliament launched a doomed attempt to oust Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, leading to a day of heavy clashes in Tripoli. Sporadic fighting has also this year rocked the city of Zawiya, west of the capital.

A video shared online, which a witness to the clashes said was authentic, showed tracer fire streaming past an apartment building as the sound of gunshots rattled out.

In the Ain Zara district, near where the clashes took place, armed men closed a major road in the area, Reuters reported.

On Monday the Special Deterrence Force, which controls the capital's Mitiga airport, seized 444 Brigade commander Mahmoud Hamza as he attempted to travel, a source in the brigade said.

Flights to and from Mitiga have been diverted to Misurata, a city about 180km east of Tripoli, airlines and airport sources said. Clashes erupted near Mitiga late on Monday and early Tuesday, a Reuters journalist said.

OPSGroup, an organisation for the aviation industry, said late on Monday that a large number of aircraft departed the capital due to the clashes. Inbound flights were diverting to the nearby city of Misurata, it said.

A resident of the Tarik Shok area of southern Tripoli said he could hear fighting when he went to bed at 1.30am and more strongly when he woke up at 7.30am.

“We can hear heavy gunfire since early morning. My family lives in the Khalat Furjan area about 7km away and they also hear clashes,” he said.

Footage circulating on social media, which Reuters was unable immediately to authenticate, showed Tripoli residents blocking roads with burning tyres.

The clashes are already the worst to hit Tripoli for months, although there has been sporadic violence between armed factions in some other parts of north-west Libya in recent weeks.

Updated: August 15, 2023, 2:33 PM