Fresh clashes between two rival militia groups in Libyan capital Tripoli on August 26-27 left at least 32 civilians dead and over 159 injured, raising concerns about the resumption of war in the country.
The Abdul Hamid Dbeibah-led administration in Tripoli claimed that the fight broke out after forces loyal to Fathi Bashagha tried to take control over the capital on Friday. However, according to an Al-Jazeera report, the fight started after forces loyal to the Dbeibah administration stormed a camp belonging to forces loyal to Bashagha.
According to the health ministry, militias attacked various hospitals and prevented medical staff trying to evacuate civilians from fighting zones. According to a statement by UNICEF, at least four medical centers were destroyed in the attack on Saturday.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a statement on Saturday calling for immediate cessation of violence in Tripoli and expressing concern over the killing of civilians. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) also issued a statement expressing concerns about the clashes, “including indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian-populated neighborhoods in Tripoli.” It reminded “all parties of their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian objects.”
This was the second such instance of infighting in Tripoli in over a month. Last month, at least 16 people were killed when two groups loyal to Dbeibah clashed with each other.
This was the second attempt by Bashagha to get hold of the capital Tripoli since he was elected prime minister by the Tobruk-based Libyan parliament in February. After the failure of one attempt in May, Bashagha had announced that his government would operate from Sirte.
Dbeibah was appointed prime minister as part of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in February last year at the end of its first round of talks. Bashagha has claimed that the Dbeibah-led Government of National Unity (GNU) is illegitimate since its term has expired and it failed to fulfill its mandate of holding elections in December.
However, Dbeibah has refused to step down, saying that he will only hand over power to an elected government. On Sunday, he blamed Bashagha for the violence and claimed that “we won’t leave this country to the scoundrels” and proclaimed the “end of the aggression,” in a video released on his twitter account.
The Dbeibah administration has also claimed that there were talks with Bashagha before the clashes broke down on Friday. A GNU statement claimed that attacks were carried out despite substantial progress being achieved to prevent violence in the capital and for holding elections by the end of the year.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Bashagha claimed that the violence in Tripoli was caused by “outlaw criminal groups that are under orders” from Dbeibah. He asserted that his administration stresses on “constant renunciation of violence” and accused Dbeibah of “exploiting state resources and capabilities to form and support armed groups to entrench his rule and establish a dictatorial, tyrannical state that targets anyone who opposes it,” Alwasat reported.
Most of the other institutions in the country, including the three-member interim Presidential Council that was appointed by the LPDF in February, and the UNSMIL have refused to take any sides. Some members of the 5+5 joint military commission had suspended their participation in the commission in support of Bashagha’s claims in April. They later resumed their participation after talks with the Dbeibah administration.
War broke out in Libya following the NATO-led intervention in 2011 in support of a coup which uprooted long term ruler Muammar Gaddafi from power. Since then, the country has been divided in several parts, each controlled by rival groups. In 2020, a ceasefire was achieved under UN-initiated talks and the LPDF was constituted with the aim to establish peace in the country.