Gunshots were heard in Libya’s capital amid clashes between two armed groups aligned with the U.N.-backed unity government.

Several residents in Tripoli were lightly wounded in the clashes, which began Sunday night and spread across several neighborhoods.

Fighters from rival militias – the Al-Raada Force and the 444 Brigade, both loyal to interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based government – clashed after a member of the 444 Brigade was arrested.

Libyan television and online media showed videos of the fighting posted online by social media users.

An elderly man “was injured in the arm by shrapnel as he fled his home in Ain Zara by car,” the Tripoli Rescue Service said on its Facebook page, condemning damage to ambulances during the gun battles.

On Sunday, armored vehicles and fighters were seen deploying in Jrabra Street, a busy commercial area in the capital’s east, and the central Ras Hassan residential district.

After a lull in the fighting, heavy and light weapons fire was heard, along with ambulance sirens, in the eastern suburbs of Ain Zara and Fornaj until 3 a.m. (01:00 GMT) Monday, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent.

The University of Tripoli said Monday it was forced to “close its doors” and suspend exams as a security measure.

The fighting was reportedly halted after the intervention of another armed group responsible for security, the Stabilisation Support Agency.

Calls for de-escalation

Libya is split between Dbeibah’s United Nations-backed government in the west and another in the east backed by putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

The oil-rich country was plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Last August, 32 people were killed and 159 wounded in Tripoli when groups supporting the Haftar-backed government fought with Dbeibah’s forces.

The latest Tripoli fighting comes after Dbeibah’s government carried out drone strikes since Thursday near the western city of Zawiya, claimed to be on targets connected to fuel and drug smuggling and people trafficking.

On Sunday, drone strikes killed at least two people and hospitalized the nephew of legislator Ali Bouzribah, from the rival eastern parliament, whose home had reportedly been hit in strikes three days earlier.

The eastern-based Parliament on Monday denounced the strikes against Zawiya, saying it was an operation to “settle political scores rather than fight against traffickers as claimed” by the Dbeibah government.

In response, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli said it was monitoring the situation with “concern amid reports of weapons being used in civilian areas and the potential for further violence.”

“Libyan leaders should do everything they can to de-escalate and take every precaution to protect the lives of civilians,” it tweeted.

Britain branded it as “unacceptable” to use weapons that put civilian lives at risk and called on all those involved to de-escalate, its embassy said on Twitter.

Libya’s Tripoli govt vows to keep targeting smugglers despite criticism

Despite criticism, Libya’s Tripoli-based administration has said it will continue to strike smuggling networks and people traffickers.

Libya’s Tripoli-based government vowed Tuesday to keep fighting smuggling networks and people traffickers after a series of drone strikes sparked claims of political score-settling.

The divided country’s UN-backed administration has carried out attacks since Tuesday against what it labelled “gangs of fuel, narcotics and human traffickers” in and around the western city of Zawiya.

“The security operation will continue until the achievement of its objectives,” the Tripoli government said in a statement.

Drone strikes killed at least two people and wounded several others Sunday, including the nephew of a legislator from Libya’s rival parliament, whose home had reportedly also been hit in strikes three days earlier.

The airstrikes drew criticism Monday from Western embassies in Tripoli, with the United States’ mission calling for “de-escalation” and the safeguarding of civilians, and Britain branding the use of such weapons in civilian areas “unacceptable”.

But the Tripoli government defended the strikes, saying it had “successfully” completed the first phase of its operation and called on civilians to “cooperate with the armed forces and to move away from suspicious sites”.

“Seven migrant smuggling boats, six drug trafficking depots… and nine tanker trucks used for fuel smuggling” had been destroyed, it said, adding that the operation would now enter a “new phase”.

Libya is split between the UN-backed government of interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s, based in Tripoli, and another administration based in the east and backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The oil-rich country was plunged into years of chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Armed groups have exploited the turmoil to fund their activities through fuel smuggling and the illegal trafficking of migrants.

On Monday, the eastern-based parliament denounced the Tripoli government’s operation as the “settlement of political scores rather than a fight against traffickers”.


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