The fighting in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, was at its deadliest on Saturday in two years, according to an eyewitness, as soldiers allied with an administration supported by the parliament reportedly marched into the city in an attempt to seize control.
According to Reuters, the health ministry of the Tripoli government reported a preliminary death toll of 12 and 87 injuries, but did not specify how many of those were civilians or combatants.
After two years of relative quiet that brought about an unsuccessful political process aimed at staging national elections, further violence in the city over control of the government would certainly send Libya back into a full-blown conflict.
The Government of National Unity (GNU), which is based in Tripoli and is led by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, is engaged in a protracted power struggle with a rival administration led by Fathi Bashagha, which has the support of the parliament in the east.
According to local witnesses, clashes broke out overnight as one of Tripoli’s main gangs attacked a base held by another. This led to hours of firing and explosions.
Later on Saturday morning, the battle grew more intense as mortars, heavy machine guns, and small arms fire were used in various central locations. Shooting and explosions could be heard in the background as columns of black smoke rose across the Tripoli skyline.
Later, violent clashes broke out in Janzour, which is west of Tripoli along the coast route and may have served as an entry point for some Bashagha-aligned fighters.
While this was happening, a witness reported that a convoy of more than 300 vehicles connected to Bashagha had left Zlitan, located around 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of Tripoli along the coastal road. For some weeks, Bashagha has been based in Misrata, close to Zlitan.
A video that was making the rounds on social media to the south of Tripoli and that Reuters was unable to verify claimed to show the forces of another Bashagha-aligned commander entering the Abu Salim neighborhood. Witnesses in the vicinity of Abu Salim reported hearing a lot of gunfire.
According to the GNU Health Ministry, the violence had damaged a number of hospitals and health facilities.
The UN mission in Libya demanded an immediate end to hostilities and expressed worry over shelling of residential areas.
There are worries that escalating bloodshed in Libya could worsen the already fragile scenario of weaponry proliferation and have cascading implications on neighboring African nations all the way to the West.
Since the NATO-backed rebellion that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has had little peace. In 2014, it broke up into rival eastern and western factions, enlisting the help of regional countries. Throughout the years of upheaval, Libya’s oil production, which is a major prize for the warring parties, has frequently been cut off.
A military truce and a peace process backed by the U.N. resulted from the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s attack in 2019, which was supported by the parliament in the region’s east.
The ceasefire included establishing Dbeibah’s GNU to rule over the entirety of Libya and oversee national elections that were planned for last December but cancelled due to disagreements about the poll.
The parliament declared Dbeibah’s term to be finished and named Bashagha to succeed him. Dbeibah declared that only an election could trigger his resignation and that the parliament lacked the authority to do so.
In May, Bashagha made an attempt to enter Tripoli, which resulted in a shooting and his escape from the city.
However, since then, a number of agreements have resulted in realignments of various armed factions within the principal coalitions fighting
However, since then, a number of agreements have led to realignments of some armed forces within the main coalitions engaged in combat near Tripoli.