Tripoli clashes widen overnight in worst fighting this year

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The Libyan capital’s most powerful armed factions battled in several districts overnight and into Tuesday morning in the city’s worst violence this year, raising fears of a wider escalation.

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 different parts of the capital.

The Health Ministry appealed to citizens to donate blood to help casualties. Usama Ali, a spokesperson for the ambulance service, said 19 people had been injured and 26 families evacuated from a strife-hit district. Ali did not say if any had been killed.

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

Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising and it split in 2014 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, 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 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.

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 Misrata, a city about 180 km (110 miles) east of Tripoli, airlines and airport sources said. Clashes erupted near Mitiga late on Monday and early Tuesday, a Reuters journalist said.

A resident of the Tarik Shok area of southern Tripoli said he could hear fighting when he went to bed at 1:30 am and more strongly when he woke up at 7:30 am.

“We can hear heavy gunfire since early morning. My family lives in the Khalat Furjan area about 7km (4 miles) 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.