Tripoli residents shocked by gunfire among civilians

Residents of the Libyan capital Tripoli were in shock Saturday night after clashes between armed groups amid civilians, a sign of the inextricable chaos that continues to reign in Libya.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (Manul) has expressed “deep concern” over “heavy gun” fighting that has “endangered the lives of civilians”. “Too much is too much!” I call for absolute calm and the protection of civilians, “said UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, on Twitter.

Fights of rare intensity

Heavy fighting has pitted two influential Western militias, killing one of the fighters and causing extensive property damage, an Interior Ministry source told AFP.

Explosions and heavy gunfire, including heavy machine gun fire, erupted near the Souk el-Tlath district, home to a large public garden in the capital.

The testimony of an inhabitant

“I saw a long line of heavy gunfire from my balcony,” said Rida Said, a 60-year-old resident. “Shootings were carried out at random in residential areas,” continued the Tripolitain, who “has not seen such violence in his neighborhood since the revolt against (Muammar) Gaddafi,” the former leader killed in the popular uprising. of 2011.

Images from local media show panicked civilians fleeing the gardens, including young children and mothers with their strollers. A small group took refuge in a cafe and women are heard screaming in a video.

“It is unacceptable for civilians to be trapped and risk their lives for the settlement of criminal militia accounts,” said Maha Mokhtar, a 25-year-old student.

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This Saturday, back to calm

On Saturday, the situation seemed to return to normal in Tripoli and there was no visible damage in the fighting zone.

Fighting has pitted the Al Nawasi Brigade against another so-called “Stability Support Authority (SSA),” an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. They “exploded after the arrest” of fighters from the opposing camp by each of the two brigades.

“According to an initial assessment, there was a death and property damage, including the vehicles of private individuals, but there were no casualties among civilians,” according to the official. It took the mediation of another brigade called “444” to end the fighting. It “mobilized its armed vehicles in the area (…), the roads were reopened and traffic resumed,” the ministry source said.

A video released overnight shows Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah ordering the group’s leader by phone to secure the area. These incidents have sparked a wave of anger on social media against the ubiquity of militias and the fragility of institutions.

“It’s shocking”

It’s “shocking and shameful.” Weapons were used in a park where children were running and playing, ”European Union (EU) Ambassador to Libya Jose Sabadell lashed out at Twitter.

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The context: two rival bands and chronic instability

The ASS brigade is considered pro-Dbeibah while Al Nawasi’s is close to rival Prime Minister Fathi Bachagha. While there is no indication that the fighting is directly linked to this rivalry, it has nevertheless created a dividing line between armed groups in Tripoli, affiliated with either side.

Chronic power outages, damaged infrastructure, inflation… Libyans have been suffering from instability since the fall of the old regime. They experienced another disappointment in December with the postponement sine die of a presidential election, which plunged their oil-rich country into uncertainty.

The fighting comes three weeks after the aborted attempt by Fathi Bachagha, backed by parliament and Eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, to seize power in Tripoli, the seat of Abdelhamid Dbeibah’s caretaker government. This missed coup had been accompanied by several hours of fighting in the capital.

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