TRIPOLI: Gunshots rang out in Libya’s capital following hours of fighting between two armed groups both aligned with the divided country’s UN-backed government, local medics and media reported on Tuesday.
Several residents in Tripoli were lightly wounded in the clashes which began on Sunday night and spread across several neighborhoods.
Fighters from rival militias — the Al-Raada Force and the 444 Brigade, both of which are loyal to interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based government — clashed after a member of the 444 Brigade was arrested.
Libyan television and online media showed videos of the fighting posted online by social media users.
An elderly man “was injured in the arm by shrapnel as he fled his home in Ain Zara by car,” the Tripoli Rescue Service said on its Facebook page, also condemning damage to ambulances during the gunbattles.
On Sunday, armored vehicles and fighters were seen deploying in Jrabra Street, a busy commercial area in the capital’s east, and the central Ras Hassan residential district.
After a lull in the fighting, heavy and light weapons fire was heard, along with ambulance sirens, in the eastern suburbs of Ain Zara and Fornaj until 3 a.m. on Monday.
The University of Tripoli said on Monday it was forced to “close its doors” and suspend exams as a security measure.
The fighting was reportedly halted after the intervention of another armed group that is responsible for security, the Stabilization Support Agency.
Libya is split between Dbeibah’s UN-backed government in the west and another in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
The latest Tripoli fighting comes after Dbeibah’s government carried out drone strikes since Thursday near the western city of Zawiya, claimed to be on targets connected to fuel and drug smuggling and people trafficking.
On Sunday, drone strikes killed at least two people and hospitalized the nephew of legislator Ali Bouzribah, from the rival eastern parliament, whose home had reportedly been hit in strikes three days earlier.
The eastern-based parliament on Monday denounced the strikes against Zawiya, saying it was an operation to “settle political scores rather than fight against traffickers as claimed” by the Dbeibah government.
In response, the US Embassy in Tripoli said it was monitoring the situation with “concern amid reports of weapons being used in civilian areas and the potential for further violence.”
Britain branded as “unacceptable” the use of weapons that put civilian lives at risk, and called on all those involved to de-escalate, its embassy said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Libya’s Tripoli-based government vowed on Tuesday to keep fighting smuggling networks and people traffickers after a series of drone strikes sparked claims of political score-settling.
The divided country’s UN-backed administration has carried out attacks since Tuesday against what it labeled “gangs of fuel, narcotics and human traffickers” in and around Zawiya.
“The security operation will continue until the achievement of its objectives,” the Tripoli government said in a statement.
Armed groups have exploited the turmoil to fund their activities through fuel smuggling and the illegal trafficking of migrants.