Libya Tribune

By Nadine Dahan

A truce has been reached between rival militias in Tripoli after a deadly face off saw five killed and over 30 wounded on Monday.

Clashes broke out early on Monday in Libya’s capital city as competing authorities continue to vie for power in the country. Rival militias linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli exchanged gunfire in the south of the city.

The fighting pitted the Seventh Brigade from the town of Tarhuna – to the southeast of Tripoli – against a coalition of armed brigades working under the interior ministry, including Misrata’s 301 Brigade, and the Ghnewa Brigade.

The capital is an important target for warring sides in the region, offering control over strategic assets such as the Libyan Central Bank, the air and sea ports in the city, as well as all other institutions.

The Seventh Brigade has been stationed in the southeastern Gasir Benghashir district of Tripoli for over year, operating under the GNA’s defence ministry.

Some militias are flexing and using their military power to exploit such institutions for financial gains,” Gamaty said, adding that fighting between militias for Tripoli should be seen with this in mind as they are looking to access “easy money.”

The GNA has relied on local militias to enforce law and order in the capital, as the UN-backed government has been unable to find a solution to the widespread arms in the country. Armed militias are in control of the airport.

The GNA, as well as other transitional authorities, has tried and failed to integrate the armed forces into a regular army, relying on militias to ensure the capital’s security.

This is not the first time militias have attempted to take control of more territory in the capital since the GNA, under the leadership of Fayez al-Seraj, took control of the west of the country.

In July 2017 clashes left at least four dead and over 20 injured, when forces loyal to the GNA battled rival militias loyal to another power centre in the west of the country, the Salvation Government.

Libya’s power houses

Whilst the international community recognises the GNC’s Presidency Council as the representative body of the country, the country is split in its support three main ways.

The PC, based in the country’s western capital city Tripoli, was welcomed by much of the population with great optimism, taking over as it did during a time of great financial crisis and instability.  

However, over the two years in which it has been somewhat in power, public support for al-Serraj and his government has plummeted.

The Government of National Salvation, which presides over the General National Congress elected in 2012, is also in Tripoli.

Finally, there is the third grouping in the east of the country, comprising various authorities, including military forces loyal to general Khalifa Haftar and the House of Representatives.

All three have failed to engage in successful peace-making efforts, while Haftar has repeatedly issued threats that his forces would soon take over Tripoli.

The three power houses in the country have all had their sights set on the capital, with each enjoying backing from external powers.

The UN-backed GNA has the support of the United States and most of the international community, and is recognised as the only representative government, but Tripoli has been rife with clashes and instability ever since the GNA came into the city last year.

The government in the east has the support of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with the UAE breaking an arms embargo by supplying Haftar’s forces with military supplies, according to the UN

Numerous Libyan actors have demanded a draft constitution be prepared and put to a referendum, ahead of an election, but lawmakers in Tobruk have so far failed to agree on the text.

Renewed clashes come less than four months ahead of planned elections later this year. Even as the GNA continues to push for elections to take place, it remains unclear whether authorities will be able to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in the run up to the vote.

Rights groups have warned against rushing into polls while violence prevails in the country. 

Libya’s national electricity company warned of a possible “total blackout” following the clashes, which it said hit part of its network.

Power supplies in the city are already rationed. As temperatures in the oil-rich country reached 46C degrees last month, most of the western area was plunged into darkness for periods lasting as long as 14 hours in some cities, sparking protests.

Since the middle of July, western Libya has had only intermittent power, with some areas suffering multiple cuts a day, some lasting as long as nine hours.

As temperatures soared, the lack of air conditioning, refrigerators and other devices – including essential medical machinery – left residents desperate for a solution.

“Our houses are just too hot this time of year,” a Tripoli resident, Maha Abdullah, told Middle East Eye.

“We have no choice but to take the children to the beach. At least that way they can cool down in the water, and the temperature is slightly lower right by the sea.”

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New fighting in Libya capital after truce collapses

Fresh fighting erupted in the Libyan capital on Wednesday after the collapse of a truce, a witness and military source said, after the UN called for calm.

A military officer with forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord said there had been intermittent fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs.

“A combined force from the ministry of defence and (ministry of) interior of the GNA led an offensive against positions of the Seventh Brigade,” he said.

The militia had been trying to advance along the road to Tripoli’s international airport which has largely been closed since fighting in 2014.

The Seventh Brigade supposedly operates under the GNA’s defence ministry.

But on Monday Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said security forces were fighting the militia, which hails from the town of Tarhuna southeast of Tripoli.

Those clashes left at least five people dead and 33 wounded, according to a health ministry toll, before a truce was reached in the evening.

Fighting resumed on Wednesday in the Salaheddin neighbourhood of southern Tripoli, a resident said.

He reported machineguns and anti-aircraft guns being fired, which could be heard over the phone. 

Overnight the UN Support Mission in Libya warned of attempts to “tamper with the security (of) Tripoli and its residents”.

“There is no justification for the bloodshed. UNSMIL calls on all to spare lives, stop military mobilisation and allow for mediation,” the mission wrote on Twitter.

The UN’s plea followed reports that forces from the city of Misrata, 200km east of Tripoli, intended to head to the capital.

Migrants trapped

Hundreds of migrants have been abandoned without food or water in government-run detention centres in the Libyan capital after guards fled from the clashes in the capital.

Some 400 people were abandoned in the Ain Zara detention centre run by the UN-backed government, one aid worker told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

Ain Zara in southern Tripoli is part of a network of state facilities where Libya holds migrants intercepted by the coastguard while trying to reach Italy by boat with the help of human traffickers.

“There are about 400 people locked in the Ain Zara detention centre, among them 200 men and 200 women and 20 children under five years without food and water,” the aid worker said.

“The guards of the centre have fled due the current clashes in the city.”

A source at an international organisation said some 1,500 migrants had been originally trapped in three detention centres. Some had escaped, while others had been transferred to detention centres in safer areas.

Libya is the main departure point in North Africa for migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, mainly from other parts of Africa. The numbers have fallen since Italy provided the coast guard with more boats and brokered deals with local groups in a smuggler hub last year.

There was no immediate comment from the GNA.

Power shortages

Renewed clashes come less than four months ahead of planned elections later this year. Even as the GNA continues to push for elections to take place, it remains unclear whether authorities will be able to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in the run up to the vote.

Rights groups have warned against rushing into polls while violence prevails in the country. 

Libya’s national electricity company warned of a possible “total blackout” following the clashes, which it said hit part of its network.

Power supplies in the city are already rationed. As temperatures in the oil-rich country reached 46C degrees last month, most of the western area was plunged into darkness for periods lasting as long as 14 hours in some cities, sparking protests.

Since the middle of July, western Libya has had only intermittent power, with some areas suffering multiple cuts a day, some lasting as long as nine hours.

As temperatures soared, the lack of air conditioning, refrigerators and other devices – including essential medical machinery – left residents desperate for a solution.

“Our houses are just too hot this time of year,” a Tripoli resident, Maha Abdullah, told Middle East Eye.

“We have no choice but to take the children to the beach. At least that way they can cool down in the water, and the temperature is slightly lower right by the sea.”

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