At least 16 people were killed and 52 wounded in fighting between armed groups in Tripoli, the health ministry said Saturday, following the latest politically driven violence to hit the Libyan capital.
The fighting began on Thursday night and extended into Friday afternoon. On Saturday, violence erupted in Libya’s third city Misrata, prompting the US embassy to warn of the risk of a wider flare-up.
Misrata is the hometown of both of the rival prime ministers who are vying for control of what remains of a central government.
The clashes pitted a militia loyal to the unity government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah against another loyal to his rival Fathi Bashagha, named in February by a parliament based in the country’s east, Libyan media reported.
US ambassador Richard Norland called on all political actors and their supporters among armed groups to stand down in order to avoid escalation.
“Today’s clashes in Misrata demonstrate the dangerous prospect that the recent violence will escalate,” he warned in a tweet.
“Armed efforts either to test or to defend the political status quo risk bringing Libya back to an era its citizens thought had been left behind.”
The Tripoli clashes were between two armed groups with major clout in the west of the war-torn country: the Al-Radaa force and the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade.
Several sources said one group’s detention of a fighter belonging to the other had sparked the fighting, which extended to several districts of the capital.
On Friday, another group called the 444 Brigade intervened to mediate a truce, deploying its own forces in a buffer zone before they too came under heavy fire, an AFP photographer reported.
Libya has been gripped by insecurity since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, leaving a power vacuum armed groups have been wrangling for years to fill.
Tensions have been rising for months in Libya as the rival prime ministers face off, raising fears of renewed conflict two years after a landmark truce ended a ruinous attempt by eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar to seize Tripoli by force.
The dead were the first civilian casualties of fighting in Tripoli since the 2020 truce.
Both groups involved in the Tripoli fighting are nominally loyal to Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity, appointed last year as part of a United Nations-backed peace process.
Dbeibah has refused to cede power to Bashagha, named prime minister after he made a pact with Haftar.