Heavy clashes last week between armed factions in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, resulted in severe damage to dozens of buildings and hundreds of vehicles, a district mayor said on Wednesday.
The clashes erupted in the Abu Salim district and continued for two days. Heavy weapons including tanks were used on the streets, and some residents were trapped in their homes, with aid workers unable to evacuate them.
Abu Salim mayor Abdulrahman al-Hamdi told Reuters that the unusually intense fighting that erupted last Thursday was triggered by members of competing armed factions capturing each other.
“The reason for the clashes between these two armed factions is because each has individuals belonging to either faction, detained at either side. There were attempts to release these individuals and the municipality attempted to do so through its reconciliation council, but unfortunately these attempts were unsuccessful and events kicked off very quickly, which included clashes where all types of weapons were unfortunately used, and many civilians were harmed,” he said.
Since Libya’s 2011 uprising, Tripoli has been controlled by numerous armed groups with shifting loyalties. Many of their members receive state salaries after various governments added them to the payrolls of the interior and defence ministries.
Some are aligned with a U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) that arrived in Tripoli last year, but fighting is often sparked by local disputes and power struggles.
Authorities are still working to assess the number of casualties and the damage, Hamdi said. He said at least six people had been killed, but stressed that this was only an initial assessment.
“Preliminary findings, which are still not accurate, indicate that (the fighting) led to the damage of hundreds of civilian vehicles, and tens of houses, some of which are minimal, but others had total damage. Some houses were completely burnt, others were completely destroyed, and others had simple damages, however, preliminary data indicates tens of houses (destroyed),” Al-Hamdi.
An electricity sub-station in the area had also suffered significant damage and some stored electricity cabling was destroyed by fire.
“With regards to the civilians harmed, the data issued by the health ministry in Tripoli is up until now inconclusive, and the number of deaths has not been fully gathered. But up until now we’ve reported six civilian deaths.”
The GNA is one of several centres of power in Libya. As it has struggled to assert its authority, armed groups have retained their grip on the capital.
Hamdi said a ceasefire was eventually brokered with the help of the GNA’s leadership, or Presidential Council (PC).