Deadly clashes in Tripoli may signal imminent Libyan civil war

At least 23 people have been killed and 87 injured in Tripoli as tensions between rival political groups erupted into street combat on Saturday. The United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire. U.S. ambassador Richard Norland urged rival parties to agree to an early date for elections, and to reduce tensions “before things get worse.” 

Though Libya has been a disaster ever since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama teamed up with NATO to facilitate regime change in 2011, the last two years have been relatively calm. That calm ended Saturday as combatants fired small arms, heavy machine guns, mortars and other heavy weapons. Explosions occurred in various sectors of Tripoli — the country’s capital — and smoke drifted across the skyline. 

Two groups are contending for rule over Libya: The Government of National Unity (GNU), which is led by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, and a rival group led by Fathi Bashagha, the former interior minister. Bashagha has the support of Libya’s eastern parliament, which is based in Tobruk. In essence, this is a battle of two rival prime ministers and two rival governments. 

Citing Saudi al-Arabiya TV, VOA reports: 

Incoming Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha, who was named earlier this year by the country’s eastern-based parliament, asked outgoing Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah to “leave the capital,” while Dbeibah responded that he was “too busy dealing with the country’s business.” 

Last week, Bashagha urged “Libyan men of honor” to withdraw their backing of Dbeibah’s “obsolete and illegitimate” government. Meanwhile, Dbeibah, who was appointed to his post last year pursuant to a UN-brokered peace process, has declared he won’t relinquish power until elections are held. 

According to BBC, Saturday’s fighting broke out when a convoy of Bashagha-backing militia was challenged by GNU forces. Reuters elaborates that in the afternoon, militia forces seemed to be closing in on the city from three directions. A witness says one of the convoys was 300 vehicles strong, but had turned back toward its Misrata base. 

Fighting is reportedly concentrated in a densely-populated, three-square-kilometer area near the center of Tripoli. Some hospitals were reportedly struck amid what the UN’s Libya mission characterized as “indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian-populated neighborhoods.” According to the Libya’s health ministry, 17 of the dead are civilians. 


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