TRIPOLI (AFP) – A night of clashes between militias in the heart of a residential district of the Libyan capital Tripoli raised fears on Saturday of escalating violence in the conflict-riven country.
The intense fighting that erupted late Friday between two influential militias left at least one person dead and caused significant material damage, a security source told AFP.
Gunfire and explosions rang out across Tripoli during the fighting, described by one resident as possibly the “heaviest” seen in the city for more than a decade.
It was the latest violence to rock the country as two rival prime ministers vie for power -- the most recent episode of political infighting to fill the power vacuum left after the toppling of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Footage aired by Libyan media showed civilians, including women pushing children in prams, fleeing on busy streets in a built-up area after being caught in the crossfire.
The fighting broke out in Souk Talat neighborhood and pitted two militias, al-Nawasi and the Stability Support Apparatus, against one another, said the security source.
It came amid tensions following the arrest of militants from both sides, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The clashes stopped after mediation by a neutral military force (Brigade 444), which deployed a number of its armored vehicles” in the area of the fighting, he added.
A video released overnight showed Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah ordering members of the force to intervene to secure the area and protect civilians.
By Saturday, normality had largely been restored to the area, but the violence sparked renewed outrage among residents.
“This situation is unacceptable and it is unbearable for civilians to be caught in an ambush that puts their lives at risk because of the settling of scores by criminal militias,” 25-year-old student Maha Mokhtar told AFP.
“What is the fault of these families who fled their homes?” she added.
Last month, politician Fathi Bashagha attempted to seize power by force, sparking pre-dawn clashes between armed groups supporting him and those backing interim premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah.
Dbeibah was appointed under a troubled UN-led peace process early last year to lead a transition to elections set for December 2021, but the vote was indefinitely postponed.