Clashes erupt on outskirts of Libya’s Misrata

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Clashes erupted between rival factions on the outskirts of the Libyan city of Misrata on Saturday, before being halted by the intervention of another armed force.

The cause of the clashes near the junction of the main coastal highway leading to Tripoli was not immediately clear.

It was also not clear if there was any connection to the mobilisation in recent days of Misrata-based forces aligned with the two main sides in a wider political standoff over control of the Libyan government.

The fighting lasted less than an hour, two residents of the area said. A fighter with another force that later moved in to stop the clashes said the two sides had stopped shooting, though there were also reports of fresh mobilisations in the area.

Motorists trying to reach the main road towards Tripoli were turned back because of the security problems there, another city resident said.

Western Libya has been tense this year due to a political standoff between the government of Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah in Tripoli, and a rival administration under Fathi Bashagha that was appointed by the parliament.

Both men are originally from Misrata, a coastal city whose armed factions have played a key role throughout Libya’s conflict.

One of the two factions involved in Saturday’s clashes is the Joint Operations Force linked to Dbeibah, city residents said. The other is a local group that has not declared an affiliation in the political crisis.

Bashagha has not been able to enter Tripoli because factions linked to Dbeibah have repeatedly stopped him. However, last week amid reports of a realignment of armed groups over the political situation, Bashagha entered Misrata for the first time since his appointment.

Armed forces aligned with each man have since been mobilised around the city, residents have said.

On Friday, armed factions in Tripoli engaged in the worst clashes there for two years, with 16 people killed including several civilians, authorities said.

The fighting underscored the risks that Libya’s political crisis could morph into a new bout of sustained conflict.